The vocabulary of witchcraft includes words that are mysterious and obscure as well as others that seem familiar but reveal hidden depths when examined: if your blind-date is described as “fascinating” or “alluring” should you be pleased…or alarmed?
Words included in this section are associated with various facets of witchcraft and magical practice, as well as with those spiritual traditions sometimes confused or identified with witchcraft.
The English word “witch” has evolved into something of a catch-all for all kinds of practitioners of magical arts and traditional spirituality. Words in other languages naming practitioners of these arts or traditions are inevitably translated into English as “witch.” In one sense, this does reflect the reality of an international community of magical practitioners who may share certain perceptions and worldviews; however this practice also denies the complexity of these traditions. Translation as “witch” was intended as dismissive and derisive.
Words translated into English as “witch” frequently describe negative practices and have negative implications. One must appreciate the powerful role that missionaries have historically played in the transmission and translation of languages. (Protestant missionaries, in particular, emphasize translation of the Bible into local languages and so are often responsible for creating the first—and often only—dictionaries of indigenous languages.) These are not unbiased sources.
When missionaries ask for the local word corresponding to “witch” they have not historically requested a word indicating “beneficial female practitioner of positive magic”; missionaries define “witch” in the most negative light and so their sources respond in kind: “What’s the word for an evil female practitioner of harmful malevolent magic?” Inevitably, languages do have a word for this type of practitioner. However, it is rarely their only word for a magical practitioner nor is it typically inclusive of all magical practitioners.
Àjé: Yoruba word usually translated as “witchcraft.” Technically it means “Our Mothers” and names mystical female powers that may be used either constructively or destructively. Àjé is tremendously beneficial to the entire community when balanced and directed benevolently, however, as with “witchcraft” some people only use the word àjé to express exclusively negative manifestations of this power. (The word is also cognate with another meaning “prosperity” and “wealth”.)
Àjé refers to the power (magical energy) and also to those who embody and manipulate it. Elderly women are most strongly identified as àjé, although theoretically any woman could be. Although àjé are human, they are frequently envisioned as birds and are led by the orisha Oshun who has powerful associations with witchcraft, birds, and feminine power. Àjé are also affiliated with the male orishas Oko and Ogun. See ; DIVINE WITCH: , ; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: .
Akelarre:Akerra means male goat in the Basque language. The term was used by witch-hunters as a synonym for witches’ sabbats, which they envisioned as presided over by a goat. The word is most famous as the title of the witchcraft painting by Goya, which depicts witches in the company of a huge male goat. The equivalent word in Castilian is Aquelarre. See CREATIVE ARTS: Visual Arts: .
Alchemist: A practitioner of alchemy; the word is sometimes used as a synonym for magician or sorcerer; some but not all alchemists engaged in other magical arts. (See MAGICAL ARTS: .)
Allure: Today this word usually means “enticing” or “seductive” and is most often used to describe beautiful women. So if someone calls you alluring, should you be flattered? Maybe. In its original Middle English usage, “allure” was intended to describe something threatening and negative. It derives from the same root word as lure, indicating “bait” or “hunting decoy.”
Allure was initially defined as the power with which women entrapped men: women’s magical erotic powers. Even now, the dictionary definition of allure suggests that it means “to entice by charm or attraction.” Charm may now imply a pleasing personality but was once commonly understood as synonymous with “spell.” See also , , .
Alrauna, Alraune, Alruna, Alrune: This word has been used for centuries as a German synonym for “witch.” Historically, however, it originally referred to pre-Christian Germanic women, also described as priestesses, prophetesses, shamans, and magical practitioners. Alrauna appears to derive from the same roots as “rune” and “rowan.” Very little information regarding the alrauna survives. What remains derives almost exclusively from Roman observations: Tacitus described the “aurinia” as being endowed with magic power, while Aventinus described them as “loose haired, bare legged witches.” There are also obscure references to “crossroads goddesses”; alrauna may have originally (or additionally) indicated the spirits these prophetesses served. Alrauna also refers to mandrake roots.
See , ; BOTANICALS: , ; CREATIVE ARTS: Films: , Literature: .
Alraundelberin: Germanic synonym for “witch” first used in the sixteenth century. It literally means “alraune bearer” and refers to the magical use of mandrake roots. See also , ; BOTANICALS: .
Asatru: A modern spiritual path based on ancient Nordic traditions; the term has been used since the late nineteenth century to describe adherence to and preservation of pre-Christian Nordic religion and means “trust in the Aesir.” In Scandinavia this tradition is also known as Forn Sior (Ancient Way) or Hedensk sed (Heathen custom). Asatru was granted status as an official religion in Iceland in 1972.
Ashé: Also spelled asé and axé but consistently pronounced “ah-shay.” This Yoruba term indicates metaphysical energy and is synonymous with the magical generative powers that fuel Earth. Ashé also indicates “command” or “authority.” A person (or deity) possessing ashé has access to tremendous founts of magical energy and power. The word itself is believed redolent with this power. (See also , , , , .)
Ba’al/Ba’alat (m/f): This pan-Semitic word literally means “master,” “mistress,” “lord,” or “lady.” Baalzebub (commonly spelled Beelzebub in English) thus literally means “Master of the Flies.” Baal is the title of an important Semitic deity. The literal meaning of the word is often incorporated into titles for various shamanic masters:
• Ba’al Shem—“master of the name”—refers to Jewish miracle-workers who acquired power by mastery of Names of Power. The ba’al shem traditionally creates written amulets for the purposes of physical healing, exorcism and renewal of fertility. (See .)
• Balazar—“master of the zar”—an Ethiopian name for shamans who mediate between people and zar spirits. In some regions other names for the same function are also used, for instance shykha (Ethiopia) and kodia (Egypt). See , .
• Baalat ob—“mistress of an ob”—mysterious Hebrew title for some sort of magical or shamanic practitioner, not least because no definitive translation of “ob” exists. The term might have languished in obscurity except for the dramatic appearance made by a Baalat ob in the Bible, better known as the “Witch of Endor.” (See HALL OF FAME: .)
Baba: This Russian word has many nuances and may indicate any, some, or all of the following:
• Grandma or other familiar term for “grandmother” or any elderly woman
• a midwife
• any woman, although usually a married one
• a magical practitioner or witch
It may be a term of affection and respect or used derisively. See DIVINE WITCH: , .
Babaylan: Priest(ess), shaman, magician, healer, or medium in the Visayan dialect of the Philippines. It derives from the root word baylan, “to guide.”
Bacchanal: Celebrants of the Bacchanalia. The god Dionysus was popularly called Bacchus in Rome; his female devotees, known elsewhere as Maenads, were Bacchanals. See also , , .
Bacchanalia: Dionysian celebrations and spiritual rituals; modern usage usually ignores the spiritual connection and uses this term exclusively for any orgiastic gathering characterized by lots of sex, alcohol, general intoxication, and/or a raucous atmosphere.
Banshee: This anglicized spelling of the Gaelic words bean sidhe literally means “Fairy Woman” or “Barrow Woman.” (Barrows are ancient burial mounds, sometimes filled with treasure, that dot the Asian and European landscapes.) The Hollywood version of the banshee is a horribly scary female monster with a fatal screech, a corruption of the tradition of personal psychopomps attached to certain Irish families. Discussion of fairy banshees is found under FAIRIES: Solitary Sidhe, however the word has historically been used to describe living women, too.
Among the earliest references to a banshee occurred in medieval Scotland and involved a mortal woman, a prophetess who foretold the death of King James I in 1437.
Similar references to human banshees are found among Scottish and Welsh Romany lore; the word seems to have been intended as synonymous with wise-women, fortune-tellers, witches, and healers.
Baraka: Depending upon region this Arabic word may be interpreted in various ways, which are not mutually exclusive:
• “Blessing” or “power”
• Allah’s sacred grace
• The sacred magical energy that permeates Earth and all living beings
Acquisition and enhancement of baraka is the goal of the magical practitioner. More baraka equates to more power, more blessings, and greater possibilities of success, protection, and happiness. See also , , , , .
Benandanti: Northern Italian shamanic society charged with witchcraft by the Inquisition. Benandanti literally means “good walkers.” Inquisition records for the Benandanti cover the years 1575 to 1647 and most information regarding the Benandanti derive from these records.
The Benandanti caused the Inquisition no end of frustration: they did not deny practicing shamanic, obviously Pagan rites, in fact they initially elaborated on their activities but denied that they were “witches”—or at least not hateful, diabolical, evil “witches” as defined by the Inquisition. Instead, they considered themselves magical practitioners who served God and their community by battling other practitioners. These Northern Italian peasants challenged the Inquisition’s definition of witchcraft. Their night battles in the District of Friuli allegedly continued until 1610.
The Benandanti claimed that they were compelled to serve their communities during the Ember Days. At midnight they were summoned by angels or drums. Should they resist the call, they explained, they would be severely beaten. Their bodies didn’t travel: instead the Benandanti fell into trances so that their souls could depart to engage in ritual combat with those they described as Malandanti (“evil walkers”). They did not volunteer to become Benandanti but were predestined at birth, their identity revealed by a caul.
The Benandanti fell into coma-like trances. In this state their souls traveled, usually in the form of an animal that crept forth from the mouth, typically cats, rabbits, butterflies or mice. In this form they journeyed to the center of the Earth where they encountered an opposing shamanic army.
Shamanic battling was dangerous. If body and soul were not ultimately reunited, the body died while the soul was doomed to wander Earth until the person’s destined lifespan was up. If the soul is in the form of an animal, then the Benandanti is doomed to remain in that shape for the rest of his life.
The Benandanti dueled with fennel stalks; their opponents used stalks of sorghum. The Benandanti were also armed with rue, the most powerful botanical in the Italian magical arsenal. They invoked Saint Lucy for assistance. Both rue and Saint Lucy provide psychic visions and guard against the Evil Eye, whose withering effect is similar to what would happen should the Benandanti fail to be victorious. If the Benandanti win, then crops and herds will be abundant during the next year but if not, local abundance is doomed to wither away.
The Benandanti fascinate modern anthropologists as much as they frustrated the Inquisition: their testimony indicates the lengthy survival of European shamanism.
Further reading: Carlo Ginzburg’s The Night Battles (Penguin Books, 1983) and its follow-up, Ecstasies (Penguin Books, 1999).
See also , , , , , ; BOTANICALS: ; CALENDAR: .
Binding: There are two types of binding spells. Should someone threaten you with one, it’s best to know which type they mean.
• Spells to bind two people together, as in an eternal marriage of souls
• Spells to bind someone’s power, usually to prevent them from causing harm
Black Mass: The Black Mass mocks the Roman Catholic Mass, the central ritual of Catholicism. The Black Mass generally involves sexual behavior and sacrilegious language and invokes Satan, not God.
The Black Mass is only sacrilegious and powerful for those spiritually or emotionally invested in Roman Catholicism. One must possess a Christian orientation or background in order for the Black Mass to have any meaning. It is Christian heresy and has nothing to do with witchcraft per se. The Black Mass is never celebrated in modern Wicca.
What is perhaps very shocking to many outsiders is how irrelevant Christianity is to Wicca and witchcraft. There is no reason to hold a Black Mass, or any other kind of Mass for that matter. That said, participants in a Black Mass might describe themselves as “witches” because they subscribe to the witch-hunt era definition of witchcraft as Christian heresy. However their definition does not correspond to those of “mainstream” witchcraft, Wicca or Neo-Paganism.
The Black Mass is not an ancient rite but seems to have first been performed during the reign of French king Louis XIV (1643–1715). It may have emerged in response to the fantasies of witch-hunters who defined witches as Christian heretics and tortured people into confessions corresponding to these fantasies.
Practitioners of the Black Mass have also taken inspiration from literary sources. Whether these literary depictions are based on reality is subject to ferocious debate. Two particularly significant sources include Justine, the 1791 novel by the Marquis de Sade (June 2, 1740–December 2, 1814) which featured a Black Mass performed by an evil monk, and Là Bas by French author Joris-Karl Huysmans (February 5, 1848–March 12, 1907), which was published in 1891. The title literally means Down There or Down Below but is usually more sensationally translated as The Damned.
Bokor/Bòkò: A Haitian sorcerer, a bòkò is traditionally described as a practitioner who “works with both hands,” meaning that he is willing to use his powers for harm as well as good. (The bòkò is usually male.) Power is used for individual benefit rather than for the greater good, either because it is channeled for personal benefit or because as a magician for hire the bòkò will do whatever the client wishes for a fee. This is a generally negative term although not exclusively so: the bòkò has the capacity to do good as well as evil.
Bomoh: A Malay witch-doctor or practitioner of folk magic, also known as a dukun or pawang. Massage and botanicals are incorporated alongside spiritual and magical healing techniques. Bomoh remain popular but as their practice derives from pre-Islamic traditions, is often considered disreputable and backward. Many bomoh now also incorporate Islamic spirituality into their practice.
Bonoeman: Surinamese “witch-doctors” and folk healers; they mediate with spirits and perform healings.
Bosorka/Bosorkania: Carpatho-Ukrainian synonym for “witch.” The bosorka is always female. There are different ways one becomes a bosorka; sometimes it is destiny—the seventh daughter in a family is fated to be a bosorka, and the third generation in a family boasting three generations of women born out of wedlock also becomes one. Should these accidents of birth fail you, there’s always another method: a dying bosorka may transfer her powers to a living one.
The word is also used to indicate a supernatural being who manifests as a woman in white with long thin arms and chicken’s feet. See also .
Boszorkány: This Hungarian synonym for “witch” is obviously related to but is more straightforwardly defined as a practitioner of magic or witch. The words are believed to be of Turkic origin.
Brauche: German magical folk healing.
Brauchen: Literally meaning “to use,” this Pennsylvania Dutch euphemism indicates “charming” or “spell-casting.”
Braucher: A “charmer”—someone who casts verbal spells. A synonym for “spell-caster,” “sorcerer” or “Pow-Wow artist.”
Bruja, Brujo, Brujeria: In modern Spanish, brujeria indicates witchcraft; bruja is a female witch, the brujo her male counterpart. Brujo is sometimes translated as “sorcerer.” The words derive from an older term that originally meant “unwholesome night-bird,” however it has became a simple synonym for “witch.” The original implications survives in the Portuguese variant See also .
Synonyms for “witch” deriving from the same source include:
• Broxa (Jewish)
• Bruja (Modern Spanish)
• Bruxa (Classical Spanish)
• Bruesche (Provençal)
Bruxsa: This Portuguese word refers to a female vampire-witch who transforms into a night bird to fly off to sabbats or rendezvous with lovers.
Candomblé: Afro-Brazilian spiritual tradition, once outlawed and thus only practiced surreptitiously. However it is now acknowledged as among Brazil’s official religions with devotees deriving from all social classes and ethnic backgrounds and tens of thousands of temples (terreiros.) In recent surveys, approximately two million Brazilians have declared Candomblé as their religion, although many others also practice it in conjunction with other faiths. (See also .)
Caul: Some babies are born with a membrane enveloping their head: this membrane is the caul. Being born with a caul marks the infant as unique and powerful; different cultures interpret this power in different ways:
• Being born with a caul may indicate that the child possesses psychic gifts like second sight or the ability to soul-journey.
• Being born with a caul may predispose (or doom, depending on perspective) a baby to enter into certain magical societies or to practice magical arts.
• In parts of Europe, the saying “to be born with a caul” has the added modern meaning of indicating a lucky person.
Charm: This literally means a verbal spell, either spoken or (once more frequently) sung. The word derives from the name of a Greek oracular spirit Carmenta who became very popular in Italy. The Romans associated witchcraft mainly with incantations (Carmentis), as opposed to the Greeks who envisioned witches as mainly practitioners of botanical magic. Incantations and charms are synonymous; the rhymes accompanying many spells are “charms.” Many spells consist of nothing other than a charm. This usage of the word “charm” remains popular in the magical community. To be charmed is to be “spellbound,” although hopefully pleasantly so.
Charm has also developed a secondary modern definition indicating an object with magical power such as a talisman or amulet. Small charms are worn on charm bracelets for instance. When people refer to “lucky charms” this is what they mean. Outside of the magical community, this definition is much more common, and is often the only definition with which people are familiar.
Charmer: Spellcaster, witch.
Charovnik: This Russian term means “spellcaster” or “wizard” but also indicates a book of spells or grimoire. Among the legendary volumes listed in an old Russian index of prohibited books is something called Charovnik allegedly dedicated to teaching transformation skills. No copy of the book is currently known to exist.
Chervioburgium: This literally means “cauldron carrier for a witch” and was among several terms used by the Franks to indicate a male magical practitioner and/or devotee of a Pagan faith. Other synonyms include Herburgius, “one who carries the cauldron to witches’ meetings” and Strioportius, “witch’s porter.”
Although they sound neutral today, these were intended as insults. It was considered more denigrating to suggest that the men served female witches than to suggest that they were magical practitioners themselves.
Chi, Qi: Literally “energy” or “life force” in Chinese; according to Taoist philosophy, chi is the energizing force that fuels the universe; the sum of yang and yin. Chi is inherited from our parents at birth but it may also be acquired, lost, channeled beneficially or misdirected. Without sufficient chi flowing through proper channels there is no luck, health or success. See also , , , , .
Ciaraulo/Ciaraula/Ciarauli (m/f/pl): Sicilian shamanic healer and/or snake charmer, sometimes also known as serpari. The age-old association of snakes and healing survives in the ciarauli who allegedly possess power over snakes and their venom and are spiritually obligated to use these powers to serve their community. Like the táltos or Benandanti, one is born a ciaraula. Circumstances of birth confer power over snakes and protection from them.
• Seventh sons and daughters are destined to be ciaurauli.
• Predestined ciaurauli are born with “snakecharmer’s marks”: the shape of a snake and spider under the tongue and on the right arm.
When the ciaraula is approximately seven years old, another ciaraula will approach and teach her the needed charms. This tradition is believed to be a survival of ancient healing traditions associated with deities like Asklepios, Angitia, Fauna, Hermes or Hygeia, all associated with snakes. (See also , ; DIVINE WITCH: .)
Chovihano/Chovihani (m/f): Romany witch, sorcerer, traditional healer, and/or shaman.
Cone of Power: Energy raised, held, and concentrated within a circle for magical purposes. It is released when it is at its peak.
Conjure: Almost as confusing a word as “witch” this one is also used by different people to indicate different concepts.
“Conjure” derives from Latin roots indicating “conspiracy.” The original conjurari were devotees of Women’s Mysteries and the Bacchanalia. The Republic of Rome considered them a threat and brutally outlawed them in 186 BCE, charging them with conspiracy. The word was intended as derogatory, similar to “warlock”; over the centuries the original meaning was forgotten but its connection with magical practices remained.
When used as a verb, modern dictionary definitions include “practice of the magical arts,” “the practice of tricks like juggling” as well as “to summon, especially by invocation or incantation,” with the added implication that what is being summoned or conjured are spirits.
Conjure also refers to a specific African-American magical tradition. The word is sometimes used synonymously with Hoodoo, however although Hoodoo’s framework derives squarely from African traditions, many of its practitioners are white and some ignore (or are ignorant of) these roots. Conjure is used virtually exclusively to describe African-American tradition. See also , ;.
Conjure Man, Conjure Woman: A witch or magical practitioner. The word is traditional in the British Isles, the Southern United States, and the British West Indies.
Conjurer: If someone asks if you’re a conjurer, what are they really asking? This is another of those words that mean different things to different people:
• Most loosely it is used to indicate any kind of magical practitioner
• Specifically it indicates a practitioner of the African-American art, Conjure
• It can refer to a magical practitioner whose specialty is conjuring spirits
• A synonym for illusionists and sleight-of-hand artists
Coven: An organization or society of witches. The word seems to have been first used in sixteenth-century Scotland. Related words include “convene,” “convention,” “convent,” and “conventicle.” Convent and conventicle specifically indicate spiritual gatherings of women.
“Coven” describes a society of witches, although that society may include men as well as women. Covens may be loosely or formally organized. Some traditions believe that each coven must have 13 members; others prefer different numbers including nine, three, and four, while others have no fixed number.
Cross: A shape that is famous as the emblem of Christianity; the actual English word “cross” derives from the Latin cruciare “to torture,” as does the word crucifix. The Cruciatus Curse, which first appeared in the fourth Harry Potter novel, derives squarely from this source. In magical parlance, “crosses” are life’s challenges and trials. Someone suffering from a “crossed condition” exists under a dark cloud. Uncrossing spells remove these crosses. Cross candles are burned to eliminate life’s hardships.
Cunning Folk, Cunning Man, Cunning Woman: Practitioners of traditional British folk magic, British magical practitioners or witchdoctors; the word literally means “the knowledgeable ones.” Their tradition might be considered similar to British Hoodoo and, in fact, much British folk magic has been incorporated into the American art.
Little emphasis is placed on spirituality: this tradition coexists with (or without) any spiritual system. The emphasis is on functionality, service, and practical magic. Many cunning folk were hereditary practitioners, although whether they “inherited” their powers or were simply following in their parents’ professional footsteps (as did so many others) is open to conjecture. To be the seventh son or daughter was a major advertisement of power. Specialties included divination, hex-breaking, and healing. Cunning folk enjoyed their greatest popularity during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but they still exist.
Curandero/Curandera (m/f): Latin American traditional healer, shaman, and/or magical practitioner. The curandera typically has tremendous botanical knowledge.
Dakini: In modern Hindi, this is sometimes used as a synonym for “sorceress” or “witch.” Technically dakini refers to Tantric initiates and to a host of female spirits, acolytes of the great goddess Kali.
Deasil, Deosil: Moving in a clockwise or sunwise direction; the opposite of widdershins. Rituals and spells may demand that one must move in a specific direction.
Demonologist: Biologists study biology, angelogists study angels, so demonologists study demons, right? Wrong. Demonologist is the name applied to those judges, lawyers, and theologians who specialized in witches and sorcery.
Divination: The art of prophecy. The practitioner of divination is a diviner; she serves as an oracle or medium. Divination is the fancy, esoteric term; a less pretentious but less impressive synonym is fortune-telling. Endless methods of divination exist including card-reading and scrying. (See MAGICAL ARTS: .)
Djinn, Jinn, Jinni, Jnun: Depending upon regional dialect, djinn or jinn may be singular or both singular and plural. The plural is sometimes jnun. “Djinn” is frequently translated into English as “demon,” however this is simplistic and inaccurate unless you subscribe to the notion that all spirits are demons.
Jinn are the spiritual entities native to the Middle East and North Africa. “Genie” derives from their name. An awareness of Jinn is shared by all residents of that region, including Berbers, Jews, Muslims, and Samaritans.
It is not considered safe to call Jinn by name needlessly or carelessly. Euphemisms include “the others,” “the neighbors,” “the other side,” or “the ones outside.” Merely pointing to the ground is sufficient in some communities to identify them.
Drabarni: Literally, “herb woman.” Drabarni indicates a Romany practitioner who serves as midwife, healer, shaman, herbalist, and/or general worker of enchantment.
The word is believed to derive from Vedic India: “darbha” indicates “sacred grass.” In modern Romany, “drab” may indicate grass, herb, tobacco or a magical plant.
Drabengro: The male counterpart of the . The Romany word is translated variously as “healer,” “doctor,” “medicine man” or “man of poison.”
Drago: Literally, “dragon”; in Sicily, a traditional synonym for “wizard,” “sorcerer” or “male witch.” See .
Drude, Druden (pl): Originally indicated a species of South German spirit, however drude eventually became synonymous with hexe or “witch.” In Moravia, drude refers to a male shamanic figure similar to a táltos (see ).
Druid: “Druid,” like “witch,” means different things to different people who may all passionately believe that their definition is the sole correct one. Coincidentally perhaps, “druid” has historically been used as a synonym for “witch,” “wizard,” “sorcerer” or “magician.” Nineteenthcentury references to Druids might indicate any sort of magical practitioner, even those with no relationship to historic Druidry; some still use this word in that manner.
The word “druid” is generally believed to derive from the Indo-European root “dru” or oak; this accords with the first century CE reports of Pliny the Elder. Modern Celtic scholars Caitlin and John Matthews, in their Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom (Element Books, 1994), suggest that druid derives from the Sanskrit root word meaning “to see” or “to know.”
This much is historical fact: in the ancient Celtic world, Druid named a profession, spiritual vocation and/or societal class. There were female and male Druids who served as royal advisors, keepers of the oral tradition, and mediators between humans and spirits.
The history of Druidry is complex and mysterious. The Druids relied entirely on oral transmission of information: no records written from their perspective exist. (See BOOKS: Library of the Lost: .) Surviving information regarding the Druids comes entirely from outside observers who were usually hostile to them, including such historically important Roman sources as Julius Caesar and Pliny the Elder.
“The Druids—that is what they call their magicians…” (Pliny: Natural History XVI, 95). According to Julius Caesar, Druids officiated over spiritual ceremonials, supervised religious sacrifices and served as spiritual arbiters, making decisions and rulings on religious questions. He reported that Druids trained for 20 years before being considered masters of their arts.
Druids are prominently featured within Irish and Welsh mythology, however these sacred Pagan tales were first set down on paper by Christian monks, who could not be called unbiased (although these scribes may have been the Druids’ descendants). These tales include:
• The Ulster Cycle, compiled between the seventh and twelfth centuries but believed to reflect ancient oral traditions
• The Chronicles of Saint Patrick, where the Druids are his adversaries
• The Fenian Cycle, recorded in the twelfth century. Its hero, Finn, is raised by two holy foster-mothers, one a “wise woman”; the other a “Druidess.”
The Druids were magicians, however these magical practitioners were not marginal characters hidden in society’s shadows but important, significant, influential, and politically powerful figures, considered worthy of respect from the general population. The “honor price” for a Druid (required compensation for injury or insult) was comparable to that for a king.
There are many ancient references to Druids as “magicians.” However these references come from Romans with negative opinions regarding magical practice and who believed that in order to overcome the Celts, formidable opponents, they must first disable and eliminate the Druids who lead an active resistance movement against the Roman invaders of Britain.
Following the Roman invasion, Druidry was proscribed and forbidden in Britain, and the Druid stronghold at Anglesey, an island off the coast of northwestern Wales, was destroyed. Tacitus described the scene: “black-robed women with disheveled hair like Furies, brandishing torches. Close by stood Druids, raising their hands to heaven and screaming dreadful curses.” (Tacitus: Annals XIV 30.)
Although Druidism was banned and Druids were persecuted by Rome during the first century CE, Druidesses did serve as fortune-tellers for the emperors Severus Alexander and Diocletian in the third century.
A legend explains Diocletian’s respect for the Druids. While still in the Roman army ranks, Diocletian was criticized for leaving a stingy tip by a Druidess who observed him paying his bill in a tavern. Diocletian joked that he’d be more generous when he became emperor. The Druidess scolded him for being flippant but then predicted that he would indeed become emperor “after he killed the boar.” Her prediction was accurate: Diocletian became Emperor after killing the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard whose name was Aper, Latin for “boar.”
Druidic practices in Ireland continued even after Christianity became a major force in the fifth century. Christian texts frequently depict Druids as opposing Christianity. The seventh-century Life of Saint Berach details a long conflict between that saint and local Druids determined not to be supplanted by Christianity nor deprived of their lands. Satanism was evoked: Berach condemns a Druid by saying “Your father, Satan, having been cast out of heavenly inheritance… you therefore are not fit to possess this land dedicated to God.” Early eighth-century Irish canons declared that kings must obey the injunction not to heed the superstitions of Druids, augurs, and sorceresses.
Various modern Neo-Pagan traditions are dedicated to reviving and preserving the spirit of Druidry.
The Druids left no monuments: they preferred nature to buildings and taught in groves and caves where they also conducted rituals. The French cathedral of Chartres was built over a sacred Druid site.
See DIVINE WITCH: .
Dybbuk: Literally means “attachment”; in Jewish tradition it indicates transmigrating souls who for one reason or another “attach” themselves to a living person. Attachment typically manifests as involuntary possession: the dybbuk takes over the personality of the victim. Dybbuks are popular motifs in Yiddish folklore, literature, and theater, however these reflect historical reality: records of possession by dybbuks exist—there was an epidemic of possession in the sixteenth century. Similar to zar possession, women were common victims, but unlike zar, which are spirits, dybbuks are ghosts, the souls of once living people who must be exorcized, not accommodated. See .
Ember Days: Ember Days come shortly before an equinox or solstice and are dedicated to purification and protection. These are threshold times and as such are powerful but vulnerable to malevolent forces. Traditionally, magically protective bonfires were lit.
According to official Church explanation, the term “ember days” has nothing to do with bonfires but is a corruption from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, meaning “four times,” indicating how many Ember Day periods there are in a year. Three days of abstinence, fasting, and spiritual purification were ordered by the Church at the beginning of each season.
However, the Church inherited the custom of Ember Days from Pagan Rome, where it was customary to plead for help from the presiding spirits and undergo spiritual ritual prior to initiating important agricultural activities. Virtually the entire month of February was devoted to ritual purification before the beginning of their New Year (see CALENDAR: February Feasts, ) and so the Romans originally had but three periods of Ember Days:
• In June, when preparing for the harvest
• In September, when preparing for the annual wine vintage
• In December, in preparation for seeding the fields
Pagan Italian traditions associated with the Ember Days survived, as demonstrated by the Benandanti who engaged in shamanic battles during the Ember Days in order to save the community’s seeds, crops and harvest. See .
Enchant: This synonym for “bewitch” derives from the same source as “incantation.” The dictionary also suggests that this indicates “to influence (as if) by charms and incantations” as well as “to rouse to ecstatic admiration.”
Enchantment: The craft of enchanting, often a synonym of “witchcraft.” Practitioners of enchantment are enchanters and enchantresses.
Enochian Magic: A system of angel magic conveyed to Dr. John Dee via the medium Edward Kelley. The angels with whom Kelley had contact were allegedly the same angels who communicated with the biblical Enoch, hence the name. Dee and Kelley first deciphered the Enochian language, an angelic tongue, in 1581. Aleister Crowley was among the first modern occultists to employ the Enochian language. In his book Magick in Theory and Practice, he advocated its use by all witches.
Further information may be found in Donald Laycock’s The Complete Enochian Dictionary: A Dictionary of the Angelic Language As Revealed to Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley (Weiser Books, 2001).
See HALL OF FAME: , , .
Ensorcell: To bewitch or enchant; from same derivation as sorcery.
Ensorcellment: Enchantment, sorcery, witchcraft.
Envoûtement: This French word is often translated into English as “bewitchment” but literally indicates image magic: the magical use of dolls or photographs. Envoûtement technically derives from Middle Latin invultuor “a sorcerer who makes a voult.” What is a voult? “Voult” derives from the Latin voltus, “face” and so indicates the image of a person. (See MAGICAL ARTS: .)
Erberia: In medieval Venice, this word, literally indicating “herbalism,” was a synonym for witchcraft, sorcery or brujeria.
Estrie: Old French word deriving from the Latin strix and . By the early Middle Ages it was synonymous with hexe or “witch” in mainstream society.
However the word also entered the Jewish community, where it evolved new meanings—or retained old ones, who knows? The Jewish estrie is a liminal figure, associated with Lilith in her guise as Queen of Demons and Witches. The estrie straddles the boundary between malevolent magical practitioner, supernatural witch, demon-possessed woman, and malevolent spiritual entity. Depending upon region and community, estrie may indicate any, some, or all of those meanings.
The estrie takes various forms: she shape-shifts at will. She can allegedly take any form although black cats are favored. The estrie is vampiric: her diet is human blood. Children are her favorite food although adults shouldn’t count themselves safe either.
The estrie operates in secret. Should someone wound the estrie or recognize her true form, the estrie will die unless she eats some of that person’s bread and salt. According to one legend, a man was attacked by a cat at night but fought back and escaped. The next day, a somewhat beaten-up looking woman approached him and begged for bread with salt. He was about to give it to her when another man protested, warning that if he saved the estrie, she’d only harm others.
Fascinate: Originally “fascinate” was synonymous with “bewitch” or “allure.” Another meaning is “to transfix and hold spellbound by means of irresistible power.” It was once believed that snakes and weasels fascinated their prey which, having made fatal eye contact with the predator, were transfixed, paralyzed, and unable to escape.
“Fascinate” derives from Fascinus, a Roman deity with the power to repel the Evil Eye and counteract its effects. Fascinus was the anti-Evil Eye. His power caused the opposing effect: he could make new shoots spring from dried-up withered plants and restore fertility to barren women.
Fascinus was symbolized by a phallus, and his power and protection was accessed through the use of phallus amulets. Phallic amulets similar to modern mobiles or wind chimes were combined with bells and slogans like “Here lives happiness!” and hung over doorways. Examples were recovered in the ruins of Pompeii. This practice of placing protective images of phalluses on houses continued into medieval times and was even found on church walls. See ANIMALS: , .
Fascinatrix: A classical synonym for “witch.” This witch casts her spell through the power of fascination or allure.
Fetch: A synonym for “double,” “doppelganger” or “shadow soul”; in horror fiction “fetch” sometimes indicates a wraithlike ghost. The word derives from Nordic shamanism: the fetch is technically a human soul that can be trained to leave the body, travel, and return while the shaman is entranced. This is more than just dream-journeying: the fetch actually manifests physically, usually in the form of a small insect or animal, typically flies, mice, butterflies or cats. (Sometimes the fetch looks like the shaman’s twin, hence “double” or “shadow.”)
The fetch may be an individual’s animal soul; the acquisition of different animal forms may be demonstrations of shamanic power. Fairy tales of transformation may really be allusions to the fetch.
See also , , , ; ANIMALS: , ; .
Fjolkunnigir: This Norse euphemism for “magician” refers to “great knowledge.” It is similar in linguistic derivation to “cunning.”
Flagõ: A term from the Nordic Eddas variously translated as “witch,” “troll-woman” or “shewolf.” Sometimes also used as a generic term for “monster.” See also ; DIVINE WITCH: , .
Freemasonry: Worldwide fraternal order whose members, now both male and female depending upon Rite, share metaphysical ideals and a belief in a Supreme Creator. Freemasonry has historically been described as a secret society, although many Freemasons prefer to describe themselves as a society with secrets. Freemasonry is an initiatory system of degrees, based on the allegory of rebuilding the Temple of Solomon, with alleged roots in medieval guilds of stonemasons. Some believe these traditions go back further, to the Builders of the Adytum, the masons who built Solomon’s Temple.
According to legend, after the suppression of the Knights Templar in 1312, surviving Templars went into hiding in Scotland where they eventually resurfaced as Freemasons. An “Unknown Master” received these Templar secrets and fashioned seven degrees linked to knightly titles.
Gradually as Masonry spread, local, regional, and national characteristics evolved. Some new rites were derived from alchemical and hermetic mysteries. Freemasonry has also exerted influence over various spiritual and magical traditions including High Ceremonial Magic, Umbanda, and Vodou.
As the European Witchcraze died down, hostility arose towards Freemasons instead. Freemasonry was banned, on pain of death, by a papal bull in 1738. The Vatican was troubled by the success of this secret organization among the wealthy and powerful. They suspected it of encouraging occultism, Protestantism, and atheism.
Freemasons, like witches, were accused of plotting world domination. Prominent Freemasons include Count Cagliostro and his wife Seraphina, Casanova, Mozart, Herman Rucker, and Harry Houdini. (See HALL OF FAME: , .)
Garaboncias (Hungarian), Grabancijas (Southern Slav): This word has its origins in Italy: necromancia became nigromanzia further corrupted into gramanzia and from there to these modern terms. Both refer to the identical concept: a supernatural being born in the form of an extraordinary wonder-child who acquires and works magic through shamanic trance.
The child’s destiny is indicated at birth because he is born with teeth and/or an extra finger. In his seventh or fourteenth year, the child must battle a magical opponent in the form of a bull. (No need to search for this opponent; it will find you.) Magical power is obtained while levitating in shamanic trance.
The garaboncias is traditionally envisioned as a wanderer with a magical black book. He rears snakes that transform into dragons when he wishes to ride them through the air. The garaboncias craves dairy products. He uses his powers to reward kindness and punish evil and injustice. The garaboncias can locate treasure and stolen or lost items, animals or people using his magic staff or a mirror. See also .
Glamour, Glamoury: Glamoury is the art of enchantment, the magical art of optical illusion. Those who possess this art possess glamour and are thus able to disguise their appearance and make the viewer see whatever the viewed wishes them to see. This is an extremely powerful, seductive art, powerfully associated with Fairies.
Goes/Goetes (s/pl): A common Greek word for “magician” used at least as far back as the dawn of the Common Era; “goes” literally means “howler” and may have originally indicated someone who howled incantations, or was a reference to wolf shamanism.
The original goes was a Greek ritual healer, a singer of charms, a medium and seer, similar to what is now called a shaman. Transformational skills may be possessed; Herodotus suggested that the Scythians who claimed to be able to temporarily transform themselves into wolves might be goetes.
The word eventually came to be used loosely and was applied to professional practitioners of mystery traditions (e.g., Orphic or Dionysiac rites), charlatans, fortune-tellers, and mountebanks. Nor did the goes have to be Greek: the word was eventually applied to any similar practitioner.
Flavius Josephus, the first-century chronicler of Rome’s war with Judea, described the goetes as men who do or promise miracles, including “overpower the Romans.” Some of his contemporaries classified Jesus Christ as among the goetes.
This was folk practice; it wasn’t necessary to be educated to be a goes. The word developed lower-class connotations and eventually was virtually always meant contemptuously, or at least in the surviving records. And the community that the goes served was largely illiterate. Goetes became increasingly disreputable. By Plato’s time, in some cities goetes were liable to be arrested.
See also , , ; HALL OF FAME: .
Goetia, Goeteia: Literally “sorcery” or “witchcraft” in Greek. The term technically refers to the craft practiced by a goes (see previously). In classical times, goetia’s scope included charms, curses, mediumship, necromancy, and shamanic contact with the realm of the dead.
During the classical Greek era, distinctions were drawn between types of magic.
Goetia was considered ‘low’ magic while theourgia (theurgy) was higher. Theourgia emphasized inner knowledge and spiritual questing. Goetia involved paid professional services to the community. Theourgia was the province of the up-market educated elite while goetia was identified with unruly, defiant, lower classes and the rabble, not with cultured, civilized, educated, rational people.
By the Middle Ages, goetia was synonymous with “low magic” and specifically identified with malevolent scary magic. See also , , ; BOOKS: Diabolical Books: Grimoires: .
Goetic Magic: A method of summoning spirits, a modern system of magic named for the grimoire The Goetia and utilizing its techniques for spirit summoning. See BOOKS: Diabolical Books: Grimoires: .
Golden Dawn: Short name for The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an incredibly influential order of magicians founded in London in 1887. Its membership included some of the most prominent contemporary occultists including Samuel L. MacGregor Mathers, Moina Bergson Mathers, Arthur E. Waite, William Butler Yeats, Aleister Crowley, and Dion Fortune. The Golden Dawn transformed the Western practice and perception of the magical arts.
The Good People: Seventeenth-century English euphemism for witches and devotees of pre-Christian deities and traditions.
Goodfellow: This innocuous word historically hides subversive meanings. Today “goodfellow” is a euphemism for a Mafioso; in seventeenth-century England it was a euphemism for witches and devotees of pre-Christian deities and traditions.
Great Rite: The sacred union of female and male forces. In essence, every act of sexual intercourse could theoretically reproduce the Great Rite, however the term usually indicates ritual sex for a conscious purpose including healing, fertility, and magic. In many ancient civilizations (Sumeria, Celtic Ireland) the male ruler must annually unite with a specific Goddess, as channeled into the body of her priestess, in order to legitimize his right to rule. Sacred prostitution is based on this concept, as is sex magic. The Great Rite survives in some modern spiritual traditions, although now often reproduced symbolically rather than literally—thus the ritual blade in the chalice may represent the Rite.
Grimalkin: In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one witch suddenly announces “I come, Graymalkin.” She is responding to a summons from her familiar. Graymalkin literally means “gray cat.”
“Malkin” was a nickname for Maud or Matilda, once very popular women’s names. Eventually the term was adopted as a general name for a cat (sometimes rabbits, too) in the manner that “Rover” is now understood to refer to a pet dog. However, the word also had a secondary meaning indicating an “untidy woman.” By the 1630s, the word was most commonly spelled “grimalkin.”
Gris-gris: The word derives from the Mande language of West Africa and originally referred to ritually prepared magical objects, similar to what the Portuguese called “fetishes.” Traditional gris-gris were formed in the shape of dolls or cloth packets. The word does not derive from the French gris, gris, meaning “gray, gray,” indicating “gray magic” that blends “black” and “white.”
Gris-gris is now sometimes used to indicate any magical object, charm bag or spell. Some also use it as a synonym for magic, although properly gris-gris indicates a magically charged object created for protective purposes. See also , ; MAGICAL ARTS: .
Haegtessa: “Hedge witch”; an Old English term for a prophetess. The Dutch variation is hagedisse.
Hag: Commonly used as a synonym for “witch,” this is another word possessing multiple definitions. According to the dictionary, hag may mean a witch, a demon or an ugly, slatternly or “evil looking” old woman. To further complicate matters, there are also ancient pre-Christian hag goddesses. The word derives from the same etymological roots as “hedge.” Further information is found in HAG.
Haljoruna: Gothic synonym for “witch.” According to the sixth-century Gothic historian Jordanes, King Filimer of the Goths, a Christian convert, conducted a census and discovered to his dismay many “witches” or haliorunnae. He exiled these exclusively female witches to barren lands, where they had carnal relations with desert spirits and conceived children who became the Huns.
The story was intended as an insult to the Pagan Huns, competitors of the Goths. The story excites historians, however, because of the resemblance of “Haljoruna” to “Alrauna.” Whether they are one and the same is open to discussion: Haljoruna literally means “Hal (or Hulda) the runester” or “rune-caster” and so may indicate affiliations with the deity Hulda and/or runic magic. See also .
Heathen: This Anglo-Saxon word literally means “dweller on the heath.” The heath is the area outside the settlement; post-Christianity, those wishing to maintain old traditions retired to the heath, hence the name. It came to be synonymous with “Pagan,” sometimes with the added implication of rude, ignorant barbarian. The word has been reclaimed by Neo-Pagans subscribing to Northern European traditions and today is used with pride. See also .
Hechiceria: Spanish synonym for “witchcraft” or “magic”; it corresponds to “the craft.”
Hechicero/Hechicera (m/f): Spanish word usually translated as “sorcerer” although that isn’t a literal translation. Hechicera suggests someone who “makes” or “creates” things—a crafter. The Spanish Inquisition used the word to describe any adherent or practitioner of indigenous Andean spiritual traditions. See also .
Hedge: When humans clear a forest for settlement, the hedge serves as the division (the threshold) between wild nature and “civilization.” Depending upon your perspective, the hedge is either a sacred area filled with liminal power or a place of imminent danger where harmful forces lurk. In either case, witches were understood to inhabit (or at least spend a lot of time) in the hedge. See .
Hedge-rider: Northern European synonym for witch: “she who rides the hedge.” See .
Heid: Literally “gleaming”; in the Norse sagas the word implies “honor” but it was also a common name or epithet for witches and prophetesses. See DIVINE WITCH: .
Heka: An ancient Egyptian term for sacred natural magical energy and power. Heka is also used as a synonym for “witchcraft.” It is personified in a deity who bears that name.
Herbaria: “Little herbal mother.” Medieval ecclesiastical synonym for “witch.”
Hex: The English word “hex” derives from the German hexe and is among those wonderful words that serve as nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
• Hex indicates a spell-caster and/or her spell. Although any spell can be considered a hex, it has taken on the additional meaning of a malevolent spell or a curse: “The hex cast a hex.”
• Hex also indicates the act of spell-casting, thus one can threaten “I’ll hex you!”
• To be hexed is to be spellbound, cursed or bewitched, literally under the power of the hex, thus “The house was hexed.”
Hexe: A witch or sorceress in German. (Plural hexen.)
Hexenmeister: Literally, “Master of the Witches.” The hexenmeister is a magical practitioner in Pow-Wow tradition. He can cast spells but perhaps more importantly can undo spells cast by others, remove the Evil Eye, and break hexes, curses, and jinxes.
The hexenmeister may be a devout, conservative Christian who resents being categorized as a magical practitioner. Others use the term as self-description to indicate that they are magical practitioners: it may also be understood to mean “Master of Spells.”
Hexerei: German synonym for “witchcraft” or “sorcery.” The craft practiced by the hexe.
Hoodoo, Hoodoo Doctor, Hoodoo Man, Hoodoo Woman: A melting pot American magic, Hoodoo was born when enslaved African magical practitioners, deprived of their traditional materials, were forced to develop an entirely new botanical repertoire to fuel their emergency magic. These practitioners exemplify the ideal of the questing, curious occultist: they took wisdom from all available sources, applied it to a blended West and Central African framework and created a powerful new system of practical magic. In addition to African traditions, Hoodoo incorporates Native American, European and Romany traditions, Freemasonry, Kabalah, and Pow-Wow.
Hoodoo may be used as a noun or verb:
• Hoodoo names the magical tradition.
• Hoodoo names the action of spell-casting: “I will hoodoo you.”
• Hoodoo names a state of bewitchment: “I’ve been hoodooed.”
Unlike hex or jinx, Hoodoo is a neutral term: one can be Hoodooed with love and blessings as well as curses.
Further Reading: Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic (Lucky Mojo, 2002).
Hover: Hebrew euphemism for “witch”; it literally means “binder” and derives from root words meaning “tie, untie, join.” Hover indicates a practitioner of knot magic.
Huna: Literally “secret,” the equivalent of “occult.” It refers to esoteric Hawaiian magical, healing, and spiritual traditions. See also .
Incantation: Spells or verbal charms that are sung, spoken or chanted.
Istinzal: Moroccan ritual divination whereby a healer utilizes a child as a medium. The child is placed close to a source of light. A small quantity of either ink or oil is poured into the child’s palm. Incense is burned to beckon the spirits closer. The child gazes into the liquid as the healer chants incantations and petitions the spirits. Although the adult healer supervises and directs the ritual, it is the child who actually sees and describes the spirits. Istinzal is but one of a number of similar practices whose roots stretch back at least as far as second- or third-millennia BCE Babylonia.
Jĕzĕe: Old Czech for “witch.” See DIVINE WITCH: .
Jedza: This Polish word can mean “witch,” “evil woman” or “fury” and is related to the root verb “to get angry.”
Jinx: “Don’t jinx me!” people plead. Although the notion of the jinx as preventing success remains, the word has now entered common usage and many never connect it with occultism. “Jinx” derives from the Greek iynx, indicating a bird associated with spellcraft. (See ANIMALS: .) In the southern United States, jinx has come to be synonymous with “hex.” Jinx, unlike most other forms of magic, is always negative. There is no such thing as a positive or even neutral jinx.
• Jinx can be a noun, indicating a malicious spell that often has a binding effect, preventing success, victory, and achievement: “She put a jinx on me.”
• Jinx can be a verb, indicating the action of placing a jinx: “I’ll jinx you!”
• Jinx can also be an adjective: a team that never wins, a project that is never completed can be described as “jinxed.”
Juju: This African word, possibly of Hausa origin, originally indicated a priest-king. It also refers to the ancestral spirits of past priest-kings and to their power that is concentrated in amulets, fetishes, and other objects maintained by religious specialists.
So, technically, juju referred to specific human beings, both living and ancestral, and to their residual power that can be concentrated in an object via specific ritual. Europeans misunderstood the subtlety and complexity of this term and applied it to the amulets and objects themselves. (In other words, juju refers to the power that is concentrated, maintained, and cultivated within the sacred objects—not merely to the objects themselves.)
Juju Man, Juju Woman: Indicates a practitioner of magic and/or pre-Christian spirituality. It originally implied someone steeped specifically in African magical traditions and spirituality (see ). However in some regions it has become synonymous with any powerful practitioner of Earth, practical or folk magic.
Kahuna: In Hawaiian, the Kahuna is literally a specialist or master of an art. There are different types of Kahuna; some are masters of healing or various magical arts.
Kaula: A traditional Hawaiian diviner, prophet or seer. The female variation is the kaula wahine.
Kimbanda, Quimbanda: Afro-Brazilian magical and spiritual traditions deriving from similar Congolese sources as Palo (see ).
Kodia: Term used in Egypt for the female ritual leader of zar ceremonials. The position is often hereditary, passed from mother to daughter. See .
Koldun/Koldun’ia/Kolduny (m/f/pl): Russian words translated as “witch.” The koldun is a local practitioner or village witch or magician. Episcopal instructions from the sixteenth century direct Russian parish priests to root out “women fortune-tellers and kolduny” and hand them over to secular legal authorities.
The word is commonly considered pejorative and is usually intended in the negative sense. Kolduny are popularly envisioned as gloomy, dour, solitary practitioners who possess powers of spoiling.
Kraut: Literally “herb” in German, but it also has the added meaning of “magical substance.”
Krauthexen: German for “herb witch.”
Kresnik: The kresnik from Istria and Slavonia is similar to the Benandanti: their destined ability to combat malevolent “witches” is indicated by the caul with which they are born. At night the kresnik lies entranced; a large black fly emerges from his mouth and journeys to shamanic battles. The natural opponent of the kresnik is the vucodlak.
Using sticks, kresniks battle their opponents in the air at crossroads. Kresniks are also said to cross the sea in eggshells to do battle above St Mark’s Square in Venice.
Kresniks can shape-shift into any animal form, although the most popular are bullocks, goats, and horses. See also , , .
Lamia/Lamiae: During the Middle Ages witches were sometimes called lamiae. Lamiae combined the horrific features of the strix and succubus: they crept up on sleeping men, and held them spellbound with sexual fantasies while sucking their blood and consuming their flesh. In the nineteenth century lamia was used to indicate a femme fatale with powers of alluring enchantment. See also .
Lamina: “Little wood mother”; a medieval ecclesiastical synonym for “witch.”
Larva: Latin word indicating masks and the spirits of the dead (ghosts). See .
Larvatus: Latin term used in the Middle Ages to refer to someone wearing a mask and/or possessed by spirits.
Lookman, Lukuman: “The one who looks”—spiritual advisors, healers, seers, and diviners from the African-derived traditions of Surinam, Trinidad, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Despite the name, Lookman are not exclusively male.
Lwa: Sacred spirits of Vodou. Devotion to the lwa is the basis of Vodou. Lwa is the standardized Kreyol spelling; loa is an older French variation. These spirits are also called mystères.
Macumba: Afro-Brazilian spiritual tradition; the word is sometimes used synonymously with Candomblé, however others use it as a synonym for “witchcraft.” Macumba is powerfully associated with magical aspects of spiritual tradition; whether the word is used positively or pejoratively may reveal the user’s attitudes towards magical practice.
Maenad: A female devotee of Dionysus. In many ways, the Maenads served as the prototype of the wild, free, ecstatic female witch. Eventually they too would come to be hysterically persecuted and outlawed. Among the theories of historical witchcraft is that it is a surviving vestige of Dionysian spirituality. See CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: ; DIVINE WITCH: ;.
Maestra: Female master or teacher of magic. The male equivalent is the maestro.
Maga: This word derives from the same roots as “mage,” “magus,” and “magician”—although these words are almost inevitably used for male practitioners. Maga is the feminine version and remains a popular Spanish synonym for “sorceress” or “female magician.”
Mage: “Magician”; the term is synonymous with “magus” (see ).
Magi: The plural form of “magus.” Originally the Magi were a very learned class of Medes and Persians who practiced magical arts and indigenous Iranian spiritual traditions, which preceded and were supplanted by Zoroastrianism, although the Magi maintained some sort of official position. The Magi existed up to the Christian era.
Their reputation was such that the very word for “magic” derives from their name. For further information, see .
Magic: A vague word that may indicate any, some, or all of the following:
• The magical arts
• The arts of illusion
• The natural energy and power that magical practitioners manipulate in order to cast spells and effect change
• A supernatural, otherwise unexplainable occurrence or event
This English word derives from the Greek mageia and the Latin magia meaning “art of the magus or magician.” These words in turn derive from the Magi, a Persian caste of priests, spiritual practitioners, and masters of astrology and divination. (See , .)
Magician: Literally, a practitioner of magic. The Greek magos (plural: magoi) was Latinized and Anglicized as magus and magi. The original Magi were a priestly clan from Media who first had significant contact with the Greeks in the 540s BCE when Cyrus, King of the Medes and Persians, conquered the Greek cities of Asia Minor.
Herodotus (c.490–425 BCE) refers to the Magoi, a secret Persian group, responsible for royal sacrifices, funerary rites, and interpretation of dreams and omens. They also actively participated in Persian spiritual ritual, supervising sacrifices. Because they represented pre-Zoroastrian traditions, they were already somewhat disreputable in Persia. Following Persian military losses against the Greeks in the early fifth century BCE, many Magi preferred not to return home but remained to ply their trade in Greece as independent practitioners. These former royal employees became the prototype of the wandering magician.
By Plato’s time (427–347 BCE) the term magoi had acquired negative connotations, denoting beggar priests and fortune-tellers who traveled door to door. During the Hellenistic period, the words Mageia and Magikos developed negative connotations, which were transmitted to the Romans. Magicians were perceived as charlatans and frauds or, on the other hand, if their magic worked, as evil and malevolent. (See also .)
Magick: The English language was only relatively recently formalized and so older documents are characterized by creative spelling. “Magic” is often spelled “magick” but the words were intended synonymously.
“Magic,” like “witch,” is an imprecise word that means different things to different people. Some practitioners of the occult find it insulting to be lumped together with practitioners of illusion (and the feeling is often mutual). Thus a “k” is added so that it is clear to readers exactly what type of magic is being practiced. Aleister Crowley was the first to consciously and explicitly use this spelling to distinguish the occult arts from the tricks of stage magicians.
Magus: In modern usage, “magus” implies a master magician and is a title of tremendous respect. Although the word “magician” is used to refer to both occult practitioners and masters of illusion, magus refers exclusively to male masters of the occult arts, and so many practitioners prefer it because it clearly distinguishes between the arts.
Mala Mujer: An “evil,” “wicked” or “bad woman”; a Latin American euphemism for “witch” and “sorceress.” The term was popular during the Colonial Era Spanish Inquisition.
Malefactor: Literally, someone who works, does or creates evil; a term still popularly used although modern usage merely indicates an evildoer or harm-causer. Once upon a time however, the word was understood to contain occult implications and thus was a euphemism for malevolent magical practitioners. (See also , .)
Maleficarum: The Latin ecclesiastical term for “witches,” as exemplified by the most famous and influential witch-hunter’s manual, Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of the Witches. Maleficarum specifically indicates female witches and is linked by linguistic root to words indicating “to cause harm” or “to do evil.”
Maleficia: Deeds of harmful magic, often implying death or injury caused by magic. Maleficia named the crime of witchcraft as defined by the Inquisition.
Mama-Draga: Literally, “Mother Dragon”; Sicilian synonym for “sorceress” or “witch.”
Mana: Polynesian word for the sacred energy and magic power that fuels Earth.
Masca: A classical Latin synonym for “witch,” masca literally means “mask.” Attendees of medieval witches’ balls were often masked in order to protect their identities; masks are also profound magical tools. The term survives as a modern Northern Italian synonym for “witch.” See also , ; TOOLS: .
Among the words used for “witch” in Low Latin were masca, stria, striga, and strix. The latter three survive in modern Italian as strega.
Mascot: An Old French word meaning “witch,” mascot eventually evolved to indicate “a protector against witches.” Continuing to evolve, it now indicates “a person or thing that brings luck.” The most common modern mascots are those of sports teams.
Mau: Mau is the common prefix for the titles of practitioners of the indigenous spirit cults of Thailand. These spirit cults are less concerned with religious ideals like the achievement of salvation or Nirvana than on the everyday needs of individuals and the community, especially healing and human and agricultural fertility. Practitioners invoke pre-Buddhist guardian spirits in their work. Many, if not most, of these technicians of the sacred are female. Their professional titles are characterized by the prefix, thus:
• Mau Du (astrologer)
• Mau Lek (fortune-teller)
• Mau Ram (spirit medium)
• Mau Song (diagnostician, diviner)
• Mau Tham (exorcist)
• Mau Ya (traditional herbal doctor)
Medium: Someone who serves as a go-between, channel or bridge between the human realm and other realms, especially those of spirits and the dead. Some define any practitioner of divination as a medium.
Miko: Mikos are Japanese female shamans who traditionally engage in trance, telepathy, and divination. The word is also translated as “witch,” “priestess,” and “shrine-maiden.” As mediums, they communicate with the spirit realm as well as with those humans who have passed over into the realm of the dead. The tradition harks back to the era when shamanism was dominated by women. (Ancient East Asian shamanism had particularly strong female associations.)
The oldest reference to Japanese female shamans occurs in a third-century CE Chinese chronicle and describes one named Himiko who ruled an early Japanese political federation. The miko is still found in small villages and isolated areas. In larger cities, her role has largely been absorbed by Shinto ritual.
M’kashephah: A commonly used word in late Hebrew literature that is typically translated as “witch.” It derives from a root word indicating “cutting,” especially herbs.
M’na-hesh: Hebrew synonym for “witch” that literally means “hisser” and derives from the Hebrew word for snake: nahash. It recalls the powerful identification between serpents, occult wisdom, and magical practitioners. In the Middle East, as elsewhere, snakes were associated with feminine spiritual traditions and so the added implication is that the m’na-hesh is a devotee. M’na-hesh may also indicate that the practitioner has a snake familiar, a snake double, that she hisses like a snake during spells or rituals or otherwise draws upon serpentine power.
Mojo: Mojo doesn’t mean sex appeal, sexual prowess or that certain irresistible something that some men possess. Mojo is a talisman that enables someone, male or female, to achieve their goals and desires, whatever they may be. Mojo is always a positive talisman, used for success and victory.
Mojos frequently come in the form of packets or bags. Many magical practitioners are skilled creators of mojo bags. The practice is universal; however this specific term derives from African roots, first utilized in Hoodoo and Conjure.
Scholar Robert Farris Thompson traces “mojo” to the Kongo word “mooyo,” meaning “the indwelling spirit of a talisman.” Mojos are popular subjects of blues songs; when blues became popular in the greater community, many new fans lacked familiarity with magical terminology. In attempting to make sense of the word they confused mojo with one of its desired results. See also .
M’onen: Hebrew synonym for “witch” that literally means “crooner” and indicates one who croons or sings a spell, similar to “charmer” or “enchanter.”
Mountebank: Originally a synonym for “magician”; the negative implications of mountebank derive from negative perceptions of magicians, not vice versa.
“Mountebank” derives from Italian sources and historically indicated “someone who mounts a platform,” usually to hawk potions and elixirs. Mountebanks were once traveling occult practitioners, sometimes solitary, sometimes in the company of a medicine show. Some were genuine practitioners, others were charlatans, and still others corresponded to all possible definitions of “conjurer” simultaneously. (In other words, just because someone is a charlatan and illusionist doesn’t mean they can’t also be a genuine practitioner, or vice-versa.)
Mountebank is now frequently considered synonymous with “scoundrel”—especially those who arrive in town, cause trouble, and then disappear. Older variations of the Tarot card “The Magician” are sometimes titled “The Mountebank.” Even when named “The Magician” the mountebank’s table usually remains in the picture. See also , ; MAGICAL ARTS: .
Mudang: This refers to a female Korean shaman. Korean shamanism is related to that of Siberia but developed its own path over the past two thousand years and remains a potent, thriving tradition despite tremendous oppression and continued efforts at suppression. Mudang were persecuted both by Confucian rulers and Christian missionaries. They were driven underground during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Mudang communicate with the spirits, mediating between them and people, and serve as healers and diviners. Mudang were invited to perform at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Further Reading: Laurel Kendall’s Shamans, Housewives and Other Restless Spirits (University of Hawaii Press, 1985).
Nachtfrau: German synonym for “witch”; literally “night woman.”
Names of Power: If words radiate power, then sacred words transmit sacred power. Sacred names of the Creator, deities, angels, and spirits annul curses, provide success, and heal illness and injury. The tradition existed in various areas of the ancient world, notably China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The practice survives in Islamic, Japanese, and Jewish magic traditions as well as in Western High Ritual magic.
Necromancer: Often incorrectly used as a synonym for “sorcerer” (and a malevolent one at that), technically necromancer indicates a practitioner of necromancy, the art of divination via communication with the dead. (See MAGICAL ARTS: .)
Neo-Paganism: Modern Earth-centered spiritual paths based on ancient traditions that are polytheistic to varying degrees. See .
Ngaka: A term from Zambia most often translated as “doctor” but may be understood as a specialist magical practitioner. For example, ngakas of the rain specialize in raising or terminating storms, similar to a European weather witch. Every animal—especially dangerous ones—is affiliated with ngakas who either protect people from the species or send the species after people. The ngaka shares the essence of their affiliated animal; they can communicate with their specific animal as well as transform into the creature whose nature she shares.
Nganga: Literally “force,” “mystery” or “soul”; this pan-Bantu word indicates practitioners of the occult arts, including herbalists, magicians, shamans, and witch-doctors. There are nganga families whose lineages go back generations. Boys are trained by their fathers or other male relatives while girls receive training from their mothers or female relations. Individuals also receive guidance from deceased ancestors who communicate via divination, dreams, and ritual. Depending upon regional dialect, nganga may refer to magical and spiritual traditions as well as to the practitioner. See also .
Nyama: This Mande word names a natural magical energy or force that permeates the world, similar to ashé, chi, heka or mana. It is the energy that fuels Earth; without nyama nothing can be accomplished. Nyama is the energy that fuels all actions and is a by-product of every act; the more strenuous and challenging the task, the more nyama demanded and simultaneously produced. However, massive, uncontrolled, undirected quantities of nyama are potentially dangerous. Sorcery is the method of controlling nyama and channeling it in positive (or desired) directions.
Obeah: African-derived magical traditions of the British West Indies. The word may indicate the system or it may indicate a practitioner, who may also be called an Obeah Man or Obeah Woman. The word is believed to derive from what is now modern Ghana; in the Twi (Akan) language obayifo indicates a sorcerer, witch or wizard.
Obeah was frequently outlawed because colonial authorities recognized that Obeah men and women encouraged and organized resistance to slavery. Like Hoodoo and the arts of the Cunning Folk, Obeah tends to be more concerned with practical magic and somewhat less with spirituality. This may be the result of living under Protestant authority, which offered less leeway for the surreptitious preservation of non-Christian spiritual traditions than Roman Catholicism, under whose rule Candomblé, Santeria, and Vodou survived and evolved.
Onmyo-Do: Japanese mystical tradition deriving from various roots including Taoism, astrology, divination, and assorted ars magica. Its underlying philosophy has to do with the interplay of the universe’s male and female forces or yin and yang. Onmyo-Do may be understood as the magical mastery of yin and yang forces as well as those of Earth’s five elements. (Although Western philosophy counts four elements, Chinese tradition acknowledges five: air, earth, fire, water, and metal.)
Onmyoji: A practitioner of the Japanese magical tradition Onmyo-Do, usually translated into English as “Yin-Yang Master.” The term is also sometimes translated into English as “wizard,” “magician” or “sorcerer.” See CREATIVE ARTS: Manga: ; HALL OF FAME: .
Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO): Also known as The Order of the Oriental Templars or Order of the Temple of the East. A magical organization and metaphysical society founded in the early 1900s by Karl Kellner, a German Freemason and occultist. OTO was intended as a modern form of Templarism, drawing inspiration from the medieval Knights Templar. Kellner traveled to India where he studied Tantra and was influenced by followers of the American occult master Pascal Beverly Randolph. Randolph had traveled widely through the Eastern Hemisphere and claimed possession of the key to all Hermetic and Masonic secrets via sacred sexual magic, as well as through Templar occult methods.
The OTO was based on using sexual energy in ritual magic. Trained adepts channel energy generated by erotic arousal for transformational purposes. Kellner died in 1905 and Theodor Reuss assumed leadership of the Order. He invited Aleister Crowley to form an English branch of the Order in 1912. When Reuss resigned in 1922, Crowley became the Order’s leader. There are currently active branches of the OTO in several countries. (See HALL OF FAME: , .)
Orisha: During the slave trade, these African spirits traveled to the Western Hemisphere alongside their human devotees. In areas especially devastated by slavery, some local orisha no longer exist in Africa but only in Western Hemisphere traditions. They form the basis of Candomblé and Santeria.
Orixa: Portuguese variation of orisha; this spelling is used by Afro-Brazilian traditions. The pronunciation is identical: “o-ree-sha.”
Pagan: Signifies any non-monotheistic faith, devotee of that faith or someone who resists Christianity—with the exception of Jews and Muslims whom the Church classified as infidels instead. Pagan literally means “rural,” “from the country” or “rustic,” from the Latin root word, pagus.
Some explain the term by suggesting that only hicks stubbornly held on to superstitious beliefs, as opposed to sophisticated urbanites who embraced Christianity, but this is incorrect: Roman soldiers used Paganus as contemptuous slang for civilians, non-combatants or “stay-at-homes.” Early Christians, who envisioned themselves as Soldiers of the Holy Cross engaged in sacred battle, picked up this slang but used it to refer to those not enlisted in the army dedicated to Christ. By the fourth century Pagan referred to anyone who offered devotion to local spirits or deities.
Ancient people didn’t classify themselves as Pagan. They called themselves by whatever name was used for their specific tradition, clan or community. Christians identified other people as Pagans because of their resistance to Christianity: thus Pagan identified what you’re not, not necessarily what you are.
Modern spiritual devotees now sometimes classify themselves with pride as Pagans. Pagan in this sense doesn’t specify one faith but encompasses non-Christian or non-monotheistic traditions, including Wicca. See .
Paket Kongo: A type of Vodou amulet or talisman, paket kongo are cloth-bound packages containing botanicals and powders. Many are extremely beautiful, created from lush fabrics, bound with silk ribbons and ornamented with feathers, mirrors, and/or sequins. Because they are so beautiful, empty paket kongo are sometimes crafted by artisans as objets d’art. Genuine paket kongo are magically empowered and hand-crafted during spiritual ritual. They are created under the aegis of Simbi, patron snake lwa of magic. The size, color, and contents depend upon their purpose and the spirit to which they are dedicated or which they are believed to contain. See also , , , Talisman; DIVINE WITCH: .
Palo: Afro-Cuban spiritual and magical tradition that evolved from . In addition to its African roots, Palo may also incorporate Freemasonry, Roman Catholicism, and Spiritism. There are various branches including Palo Mayombe and Palo Monte.
Palo is strongly rooted in necromantic traditions; central to its practice is the ritual creation and maintenance of a cauldron (prenda) containing various items including human bones. Creation of the prenda involves a pact between the palero and the spirit of one who has died. (See MAGICAL ARTS: .)
“Palo” literally means “stick” (as in a small branch) and refers to ritual practices. Deities are sometimes known as orishas as they are in Santeria, but also as nkisi. They may be syncretized to Roman Catholic saints. Many nkisi are unique to Palo, however others are shared with Santeria and Candomblé although they may bear different names. Thus Zarabanda is recognizable as Ogun, the Spirit of Iron, while Lucifero names Elegba the trickster.
Palo has frequently been outlawed and has historically been a private society whose secrets were only known to initiates. Only recently have practitioners begun sharing their tradition with outsiders.
Further Reading: The Book of Palo by Baba Raul Canizares (Original Publications, 2002).
Palero: A practitioner of Palo.
Path: Human beings may have spiritual paths but deities have “paths” too. Some deities have the equivalent of multiple personalities, different guises, different simultaneous incarnations or “paths.” These paths are the different ways a deity manifests.
Pharmakis: Greek for “herbalist” and/or “witch.”
Pharmakon/Pharmaka: This Greek word simultaneously means magical substance, medicine, contraceptive, and/or poison. It is the root of the modern “pharmacy,” “pharmacist,” and “pharmaceutical” but in antiquity also referred to “witchcraft.” Greek sorceresses and witches were called pharmakides or pharmakeutriai. Pharmakon could refer to the products of their craft, which might be used for healing or harm. Plato suggested that the Greek term for poisoning had a double meaning:
• Damage done by physical substances
• Harm caused by “tricks, spells, and enchantments”
Piseog, Pishogue: From the Irish Gaelic pisreog, pronounced “pish-rogue”; a diminutive for vagina but it also indicates a charm or spell intended to do harm, similar to “hex” or “spoiling.” Piseogs cause illness, make cows go dry, and kill agricultural and human fertility. It is similar to the Evil Eye except that it is clearly intentional.
Typically something organic is left to rot on someone’s property. For instance, a rotten egg, rotting meat or a used menstrual rag is hidden within a haystack. The item is the piseog: as it rots, so does the target’s luck, health, fertility, and so on.
Allegedly shamrocks provide immunity from piseogs, as well as from glamour (see ). Keep one on your person to keep yourself safe at all times. However, if one suspects that one is under the power of a piseog, the following serves as an antidote:
The modern tradition of tossing rotten eggs at neighbors on the night preceding Halloween is believed to be rooted in the piseog.
Pishoguery: The system of Irish malevolent magic that entails the creation of the piseog or pishogue (see previously). Pishoguery is based on the notion that only a limited amount of prosperity exists on Earth, therefore if one person gains it, it is inevitably at another’s expense.
Ancient rituals became confused with malicious magic. It was traditional to collect May Day’s first morning dew and sprinkle it over crops and cattle for abundance and luck. This practice was eventually performed surreptitiously because of associations with forbidden Paganism. Surreptitious behavior attracted suspicion: individuals were accused of stealing good fortune. Pishoguery was the response: initially protective magic that attempted to balance and redirect prosperity energy, it degenerated into harmful, malicious magic instead.
Power Doctors: Traditional magical practitioners from the Ozark Mountains of the United States.
Pow-Wow: One of the earliest Algonquian words recorded by Europeans. According to seventeenth-century European translation, a pow-wow was a conjurer, diviner, ceremonial leader, and healer. The term also indicated places that contained healing power used for healing rituals and other ceremonials.
The term now names two completely distinct concepts.
• In Native American usage, pow-wows are celebratory gatherings devoted to indigenous traditions.
• Pow-Wow is the name given Pennsylvania Dutch magical and spiritual traditions.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were German immigrants who brought their rich magical traditions with them to the New World. These traditions evolved, incorporating new influences including those of local Native Americans. The name pays tribute to that influence.
Practitioners of Pow-Wow are known as Pow-Wow artists and sometime as Pow-Wows, corresponding to the seventeenth-century definition of the word. Two branches of Pow-Wow exist. Some Pow-Wows are devoutly Christian and consider their craft faith healing, not magic. Other Pow-Wows artists are discreetly Pagan (or at least, less devoutly Christian).
German territory suffered the most brutal witchcraze of the Burning Times; among the many migrants to the United States were occultists who hoped to find safety and perhaps a little freedom to practice their arts.
Psychopomp: The Greek word for a spirit who serves as an escort between the realms of the living and the dead. Among the psychopomps are Hermes, Hecate, Circe (when she wants to), and many fairies. (See DIVINE WITCH: , , ; .)
Qosem: A Hebrew word that is often translated as “witch” but literally meaning “divider.” That may sound malevolent, as if the qosem’s specialty is dividing people or causing dissension, however that is inaccurate. Qosem derives from a root word meaning “to divide or assign, especially lots” and so is a type of diviner. This linguistic usage of “divide” doesn’t translate well into English: it sounds more threatening than it is. The qosem may be understood as dividing lots in the manner that fortune-tellers deal cards.
Rhizotomoki: An archaic Greek term for “root-gatherer” or “root-worker,” as used by Homer and other ancient Greek writers.
Root Doctor, Root Woman, Root-worker: Witch, healer or magical practitioner, especially an herbal specialist. Root-workers use all parts of plants, however roots are generally acknowledged as containing the strongest magic power.
The term “root-worker” also implies power and knowledge and a special relationship with Earth and her protective spirits. The ability of root-workers to “root” around in Earth is the clue to this power: once upon a time, it was not considered safe to disturb Earth, unless one knew proper rituals and had received permission to dig.
Root-working is an especially ancient form of magical practice. It is believed that bears, pigs, and snakes first taught people the art: these are animals that “root” in Earth. Root-worker is sometimes used as a synonym for Hoodoo Doctor or Conjurer.
See ANIMALS: , , ; BOTANICALS: , ; DIVINE WITCH: .
Rune: Alphabetic system powerfully identified with Nordic traditions. Runes are more than an alphabet, however: each rune radiates a specific power. They are used for divination, spell-casting, and other magical or spiritual practices. See MAGICAL ARTS: .
Rune-caster: A practitioner of runes. This usually indicates a diviner—runes are first cast or thrown, then read—but the term may also imply “spell-caster” or “wizard.”
Sabbat: There are two completely distinct meanings of the word:
• The eight major festivals of Wicca celebrating the Wheel of the Year: Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa, Mabon, Litha, and Ostara. Further information may be found in CALENDAR: Sabbat, and under entries for each sacred day.
• The term used by witch-hunters to indicate mass gatherings of witches. “Witches’ ball” might be the most accurate, neutral synonym, especially because attendees are described as dancing, feasting, and generally celebrating.
The use of the term sabbat to indicate the convening of witches was apparently first documented in fourteenth-century Inquisition records of trials in Carcassonne and Toulouse.
“Sabbat” derives from the same roots as Semitic words for “seven” and may derive from the Sumerian shabbattu, “a calming of the heart,” observed as a holiday every seventh day beginning with the Full Moon festival for the lunar deity, from whence this concept traveled to Judaism. Roman Catholic theologians used the word for witches so as to imply that they were damned heretics similar to Jews, and/or that Jews were witches. (See also ; CALENDAR: .)
Sagae: “Feminine wisdom”; this term literally translates as “wise woman” or “sage woman” but by the classical Roman era was a euphemism for “witch.” Columella, the first-century CE Roman writer, advised masters to forbid their slaves to consult sagae.
Santero/Santera (m/f): Priests and priestesses of Santeria (see below); in order to achieve this status, one must acquire extensive knowledge of botanicals. Santeras lead ceremonials and perform divination, rituals, and other services to the community.
Santeria: The religion of the saints—but not just any saints. Kidnapped Yorubans enslaved in Cuba were determined to preserve their ancestral spiritual traditions and maintain devotion to the orishas. African spiritual traditions were outlawed and forbidden by the colonial authorities; those who defied the decree were subject to brutal punishment. What to do? Slaves were ordered to convert to Roman Catholicism; to facilitate the conversion of people forcibly kept illiterate, the Church offered visual images of the Holy Family and saints. Santeria was born.
Individual orisha were identified with specific Roman Catholic holy figures through the use of corresponding images. Thus Ochossi the Sacred Archer took on the guise of St Sebastian, whose votive imagery shows him pierced by arrows.
Sometimes this syncretism seems natural: a saint and an orisha might share much in common, but sometimes the connections are bizarre. Chango, Spirit of Male Sexual Prowess, Master of Thunder and Lightning, was syncretized to the young virgin martyr St Barbara because her votive image displays lightning.
Syncretism offers safety: one could appear to be devoutly petitioning St Barbara while really communing with Chango. However, syncretism also leads to complexity. Modern Santeria retains a Yoruban spiritual framework with added Roman Catholic influence, as well as influences from other African traditions, indigenous Taino Indian influences, and others.
Some devotees of Santeria are intensely Roman Catholic while others now reject syncretism, believing that the time for masks is over. Many others walk a middle path. However in all cases, devotion to the orishas/saints and communion with them is the primary focus of Santeria. See also , .
Scobaces: Literally, “women with brooms”; a Norman euphemism for “witch.”
Scry: A method of divination that involves gazing into a clear surface. Crystal ball or mirror gazing is scrying; one can also scry in a pan of water or ink or any smooth surface. See MAGICAL ARTS: .
Second Sight: Psychic vision or ESP.
Seer: Literally “see-er” or “one who sees”; may also derive from the same roots as seiòr (see below).
Seidh, Seiòr: Specific form of Norse oracular practice involving prophesy via trances and summoning spirits. Throughout Scandinavia and Iceland, women performed what is defined as “ritual trance prophesy” or seiòr. Seiòr was under the dominion of Freya.
The seeress sits on a raised seat or platform where, with help from ritual assistants, she enters into trance, a process known as ùtiseta or “sitting out.” In Christian texts, seiòr evolved into a very derogatory term. However, the tradition of “sitting out” survived until the mid-seventeenth century with the Dutch Witta Wijven (wise wives). In recent years, the practice has been revived. See also ; DIVINE WITCH: , .
Siedkona: A woman skilled in . See also , .
Shikigami, Shikijin: Japanese spirit familiars who serve as sorcerers’ assistants.
Sibyl: Now used loosely as a synonym for “female seer” or “diviner,” sibyl technically names a type of prophetess once found throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. The word is etymologically related to “Cybele” or “cave”; the Sibyls prophesized from their homes within caves. The most famous Sibyl was from Cumae, now in modern Italy. See BOOKS: Library of the Lost: ; DIVINE WITCH: , .
Skhur: North African term usually translated as “sorcery” or “witchcraft.”
Depending upon regional dialect and local usage, skhur may refer to the art, the practitioner or both. It often, but not exclusively, implies malevolent magic—skhur is traditionally believed motivated by envy, jealousy, resentment, and/or the desire to settle old scores, which, depending on circumstances and perceptions, may be interpreted as a desire for justice.
Skhur is rarely initiated randomly or by strangers. Instead it tends to be a passiveaggressive method of settling scores within a family or community. Usually neighbors or relatives seeking magical satisfaction instigate skhur by secretly hiring a professional magical practitioner whose skills include spell-casting and spirit-working. These practitioners are also hired to remove skhur and heal its effects.
Solitary: An independent magical practitioner; one who works solo.
Sorcellerie: French synonym for “witchcraft.”
Sorcerer, Sorceress: Now synonymous with “wizard,” “witch,” “enchanter” or “magician” but once sorcerer referred specifically to practitioners of .
Sorcery: Now fairly synonymous with “witchcraft,” originally this word reflected attempts to distinguish one type of magical practice from another. “Sorcery” first appeared in English in the fourteenth century in reference to astrology and other divinatory arts. By the sixteenth century, sorcery encompassed other forms of magic too.
When attention is paid to the nuances, “witchcraft” is often used to refer to folk practices, with an emphasis on botanical magic; “sorcery” implies High Magic, the type that requires education and literacy and incorporates lengthy rituals demanding privacy and leisure. Sorcerers tend to be male; the exceptions are wealthy, educated, independent women.
Sorcier/Sorcière (m/f): The French equivalent of “sorcerer” and “sorceress”; sometimes translated into English as “witch” or “wizard.”
Sorguiñe: Spanish word indicating Basque witches. It derives from the Basque word that is translated as “witchcraft”—Xorguinería—and literally means “one who foretells” or “one who makes fortunes.” The word is also related to the name of cave-dwelling spirits who travel in the witch-goddess Mari’s host. See also , ; DIVINE WITCH: .
Soul-journey: The English language has no word for shamanic traveling. Shamanic traditions acknowledge the existence of a “soul” that can be trained to leave the body, perform various functions such as traveling to the realms of the spirits or the dead, and then return to its body. While the soul is traveling, the shaman is typically entranced, asleep or may appear to be in a coma. This is a dangerous process; success is not always guaranteed, The soul may become lost, injured or be unable to rejoin the body leading to fatal consequences. “Soul-journey” is the closest approximation to this concept and so the term has entered metaphysical language. See also , , .
Spiritism: This is not a synonym or misspelling of but a specific philosophy based on the teachings of Allan Kardec. It is an instructional system describing the existence of spirits and their interaction with the material word. Spiritism was highly influenced by Christianity and in turn has been a tremendous influence on Afro-Brazilian spiritual traditions such as Umbanda.
Spiritualism: A religion or practice in which contact is made with the spirits of the dead via a medium. Modern spiritualism emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in the United States and attracted genuine metaphysical practitioners as well as con artists who preyed on the vulnerability of grief-stricken people wishing to contact loved ones.
Spiritualism was originally characterized by séances, table-tapping, and physical manifestations such as ectoplasm. However because these physical manifestations are easily faked they are no longer emphasized by modern practitioners. See MAGICAL ARTS: .
Spoiling: Slavic malevolent magic. Spoiling may be similar to the Evil Eye: the spoiler radiates such intense rage, resentment, envy, and malevolence that no further or even conscious action is necessary—their very presence generates spoiling. It may also be consciously accomplished via object-driven hexes and spells. The effect of spoiling is similar to the Evil Eye: plants, animals, people and their possessions wither away.
• Spells against an individual are accomplished via magical packets secreted onto their person or property.
• Spells targeting a community may be accomplished by manipulating vegetation, such as a twist of rye.
• Spoiling may also be accomplished by .
Strega: Italian magical traditions were remarkably persistent, surviving underground despite discouragement and persecution. “Strega” names the Italian witch; “stregheria” her entire art of practical magic. The word has lingered from old Roman times. It derives from strix (see ), although the vampire bird associations have been lost. Although strega may be used negatively, it is also a title for a lovingly respected witch, similar to “Baba” in Russian or “Mother” in English (as in Mother Shipton). The heroine of Tomie DePaola’s series of children’s books is an Italian witch named Strega Nona, “witch grandma.” The male equivalent is “stregoni.” In some Italian regional dialects, strega also refers to the entire system of stregheria, thus one practices strega. See also , .
Stregheria: The craft of the Strega; Italian witchcraft and magical traditions.
Strigoii: Romanian word indicating nightflying witches. Romanian is among the Romance languages deriving from Latin; the word derives from strix and is closer to the malevolent, birdlike implications of the old Latin term than it is to modern Italian strega.
Women born with a caul, especially if also blue eyed and red haired, were believed extra likely to become strigoii. In this part of the world, being born with a caul tends to indicate shamanic or magical ability; the extreme negative stereotype of the strigoii may derive from Christian perceptions of ancient traditions and female practitioners.
Strigoii rendezvous in forests and graveyards. Strigoii never completely die: they lie in the grave with only their right eye closed. The left eye, the one on the sinister side, is perpetually open and observant. Thrusting nine spindles into their grave won’t kill the strigoii but does prevent them from rising again. See also ; WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: .
Strigula: Romanian for “witch,” “vampire” or both. See , , .
Strix, Strigae: Strix literally means “screech owl” but is also translated as “witch.” It derives from the Greek “to screech.” The word may be related to goes, which indicates “howler.” It may originally have indicated practitioners of Women’s Mysteries: owls are associated with birth, death, and important female deities like Athena and Lilith.
However, the Romans adopted the word to indicate a specific type of shape-shifting magical practitioner. Classical Roman culture was tremendously suspicious of magical practice as well as of female power; these fears manifest in the strix.
The Latin grammarian Fastus defines the Late Latin word strigae as “the name given to women who practice sorcery.”
The strix is always female. Human by day, they transform into birds at night, flying through the air ravenously hungry for human flesh and blood, especially that of babies. Like a succubus, strigae also lust after sex and human vitality or life essence.
According to legend, women removed their clothes and rubbed unguents onto their bodies, which enabled them to shape-shift into owl form and fly off into the night to do mischief. Roman literature from the first two centuries of the Common Era is packed with references to strigae: they flew around at night, emitting earpiercing screeches. They had feathers and laid eggs but had women’s heads and breasts filled with poisonous milk.
A strix appears in Lucius Apuleius’ second-century Latin novel The Golden Ass (see CREATIVE ARTS: ). Pamphile the strix regains her own form after drinking a potion and bathing in an anise-bay laurel potion.
Whether originally the strix was intended to be taken seriously is unknown. If visitors from the future, lacking any context, watched modern monster movies would they appreciate that these were merely entertainment?
The strix resembles mythic accounts of spirits like Lilith and Lamia. Were the original strigae devotees of these spirits? This isn’t just speculation; there may indeed have been some sort of spiritual connection: late Roman sources describe Diana as a leader of the strigae, although this may have been an attempt to defame Diana.
The strix may also be associated with the sirens and harpies, spirits with women’s heads and avian bodies.
The concept of the night-flying, shape-shifting, sexually voracious, baby-killing witch returned with a vengeance during the European witch-hunts.
See also , ; DIVINE WITCH: , ; WOMEN’S MYSTERIES: , .
Talb: North African term usually translated as “magician.” The talb may be able to command, control, or at least work with jinn.
Táltos: Hungarian shaman/wizard, also translated as “magus,” “magician” or even “physician,” similar to “witch-doctor” and now used to refer to any fairy-tale character with magic powers, whether human or animal. In fairy tales the táltos is invariably male, but Hungarian witch-trial records indicate that women were charged as táltos, too.
Hungary possessed powerful shamanic traditions that were suppressed following the country’s conversion to Christianity in the tenth century. The traditional táltos was a shaman who specialized in locating lost or missing object, divination, healing, and weather magic.
One does not choose to become a táltos; one is destined to become one. A táltos is identified at birth by being born with a caul or at least one tooth. If the tooth is pulled out, this does not guarantee that the child will not become a táltos, however the shamanic path is challenged and powers may be more difficult to attain.
Future táltos tend to be silent, morose, sullen children with unusual physical strength and energy. They crave dairy products and eggs. Eventually, around the age of seven, the budding táltos receives a vision. An older táltos appears to them, usually in the shape of a bull or stallion, and engages the youngster in battle. In order to become a full-fledged táltos, the younger one must beat the older. Other traditional initiatory tests include climbing the World Tree or a ladder to the sky with rungs formed from iron hooks. Others report classic shamanic initiations—they get chopped into bits, cooked in a cauldron, and then revived.
Like the Benandanti, táltos battle other táltos at scheduled intervals, usually incorporating the magic numbers 3 and 7 (three times a year, for instance, or once every seven years). They duel in the form of bulls, flames, and stallions. The táltos differs from the Benandanti in that there is no sense of battling outsiders: each táltos is an independent practitioner; they wage psychic battles against each other.
According to legend, the first táltos was fathered by a wolf (shades of Little Red Riding Hood, the mother being a young woman who was lost in the forest; the Huns, accused of being the offspring of witches and desert spirits, are among the tribes that formed the Hungarian nation. See .) This may link the táltos tradition with those of wolf-shamans and wolf-warriors, or perhaps with traditions of ritual possession in the forest where one person is possessed by a wolf-spirit. (See ANIMALS: ; MAGICAL ARTS: .)
There are also táltos horses and bulls, who may be familiars of the human táltos or their doubles. However they may also be independent entities. The táltos animal may be responsible for teaching and initiating the human táltos.
Theurgy: The ancient Greeks believed that people could train themselves to be possessed by deities. While ritually possessed, individuals served as oracles. Theurgy, literally “god-working,” was the last major manifestation of Pagan spirituality, serving as a foundation for later magical traditions.
The term “theurgy” was introduced by Julianus the Chaldean, who wrote The Chaldean Oracles in c.170 CE. Hecate was a particularly significant deity in Theurgy. Theurgy’s stated purpose was the promotion of divine knowledge for the individual magician. Different methods existed:
• Based on Egyptian traditions, theurgists chant incantations that encouraged spirits to inhabit statues. Questions could then be addressed to the statue.
• Trance states were induced in children who served as mediums (see also ).
• The spirit mounts, or temporarily possesses, the individual theurgist who facilitates ritual possession through the use of costumes, tools, and music similar to modern Santeria, Vodou, and Zar.
When Christianity came to prominence, Theurgy was branded as diabolical. Emperor Julian, the last Pagan Roman Emperor, was an initiated theurgist who appointed other theurgists to high government positions. Julian’s brief reign was followed by that of a Christian Emperor—the theurgists were removed from office and again subject to Christian persecution.
Proclus (February 8, 411–April 17, 485), the last of the great theurgists, lived in Athens and taught Theurgy at the Academy founded by Plato. In 529 the Emperor Justinian banned Theurgy alongside all other Pagan practice.
Transvection: Magical flight.
Trollkvinna: Say it out loud: in English, it sounds like “troll queen.” Troll doesn’t just refer to those big, stupid giants. In English, troll also means “to cause to move around,” “to celebrate in song” or “sing loudly,” “to sing or play” or, most tellingly, “to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook.” (see also ). In Swedish, trollkvinna is a witch.
In Scandinavian folklore, there are witches who are not female trolls; female trolls however are indistinct from witches. Although male trolls are invariably unattractive and stupid, female trolls are often (but not always) beautiful and clever. Some scholars believe “troll” actually refers to surviving Neanderthals.
Umbanda: Afro-Brazilian spiritual tradition incorporating Kardecian Spiritism alongside Roman Catholicism and African traditions. Umbanda first emerged in the 1920s.
Unholden: German word for “witches” that derives from Hulda. See ; DIVINE WITCH: .
Upir: This Russian word literally translates into English as “vampire” but encompasses vampires, werewolves, and witches—all closely linked in the cosmology of the Balkans and Eastern and Central Europe. Werewolves and witches transform into vampires when they die. “Upir” is believed to have originally referred to votaries or priests of lunar deities. See also ; ANIMALS: .
Vala: See .
Valkyrie: In Norse mythology, “Valkyrie” indicates female warrior spirits lead by Freya; they are also sometimes called “Odin’s daughters.” Valkyries rode wolves into battle and could transform into ravens and swans.
In the early eleventh century, England was chastised by a Christian preacher who complained about the proliferation of “wiccan” and “waelcryrian,” which in modern English means “male witches” and “Valkyries.” These Valkyries were not spirit-maidens but the female counterpart of the male witch: living women practicing magical arts and Pagan traditions. Valkyrie may also indicate a priestess of Freya. See DIVINE WITCH: , .
Vampire, Vampyr: Yes, yes, yes, everyone knows about Hollywood-style vampires who only come out at night, want to drink your blood, and are vanquished by Christian emblems like crosses and Holy Water. Those vampires have nothing to do with witches—unless they both happen to appear in the same horror movie.
That type of blood-sucking vampire is based on the writings of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Stoker was fascinated by Central and Eastern European folklore, as well as by the recent European discovery of South American blood-consuming bats. Stoker, applying literary license, combined many legends and added his own personal vision to create a concept that continues to entertain and enthrall millions.
However, his concept has little to do with the original European vampire.
The concept of the “vampire” transcends linguistic boundaries. Similar-sounding words referring to similar concepts exist in virtually all Central and Eastern European languages, whether Slavic, Finno-Ugric or Romance. Linguists believe these words derive from “uber,” translated as “witch,” which first appeared in the language of the Turkic tribes of Asia. Variations include upir, wampir, vampyr, upior, and so forth.
You thought the word witch was confusing? In the Balkans, one word (vampire, vampyr, upir) may indicate witch, vampire, and/or werewolf.
In Slavic areas, vampires were understood as revenants, living corpses of witches/sorcerers/magical practitioners who, for one reason or another, rise from the grave. At their most neutral, they are harmful merely because they are not obeying natural laws; at their worst, they rise with the deliberate intention of causing harm.
Little or no notion of blood-sucking exists in the original conception. Because the vampire is in a liminal state, between death and life, they require life-energy (mana, magic power, chi). This is best absorbed from living people. (Significantly, vampire bats almost never bother people.) However life force is more likely to be absorbed via sexual energy or fluids or siphoning off mana or chi than by sucking blood.
Another interpretation suggests that the vampire is not dead but a living practitioner who is able to send out his shadow soul (and recall it when desired), and that this soul is interpreted as a vampire.
Further Reading: Nigel Jackson’s Compleat Vampyre (Capall Bann Publishing, 1995).
Vanir, Vana: Alongside the Aesir, one of the two pantheons of Norse spirits. The Vanir, the indigenous deities, were identified with magic power, prophecy, and witchcraft. Occult tools and skills such as runes or seiòr derive from the Vanir. See Aesir, ; DIVINE WITCH: , , , .
Ved’ma, Ved’mak, Ved’mar: Russian synonym for “witch”; literally, “one who knows.” Variations include the Ukrainian vid’ma and Belorussian vedz’ma.
Veneficia, Venefica: In Roman literature, veneno indicated poison and/or magical substance. A veneficia was a woman who created magical potions and/or poisons.
Vetulae: Although this term literally means “old woman” it was a medieval synonym for “witch.” It was not a neutral term but one of derision. As its associations with witchcraft intensified, its literal meaning lessened: Henri de Mondeville (c.1260–1320) defined vetulae as a pejorative against all “bad women” including, according to him, barbers, fortune-tellers, converted Jewesses, midwives, and prostitutes.
Vjestica: “One who knows”; Slavic euphemism for “witch.” Derived from the same root source as the English “witch” or “wicca” and the Russian “ved’ma,” slight variations exist in many Slavic languages—for instance in Bulgaria, vjescirica indicates female witch while viestae is male.
Volkhv/Volkva (m/f): Russian term indicating a Pagan magician, priest or shaman. The term was used in the earliest Old Russian and Slavic texts for Finno-Ugric and Slavic shamans and Pagan practitioners. The word is believed to be Finno-Ugric in origin and thus may actually have once named a specific practice, practitioner or tradition. It seems to derive from a root word for “wolf” and so may once have indicated a wolf-shaman or werewolf. The word was also used to translate the Greek .
Völva: Also sometimes given as Vala. The sibyls of the North-land, the Norse term for female magician or magical prophetess. The term derives from völr or “stick.” This stick (also known as a stafr or gandr) was used in magical rituals.
The völva presided over the divination rite know as seiòr. The völva traveled, offering her services and in turn being feasted and celebrated. She reproduces the traditional processional where a deity or sacred object is transported by wagon. A written document of these practices survives from a village in Greenland, suffering from famine and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the völva.
She was greeted with a lavish ritual meal that featured the hearts of every possible different animal. After the feast, the völva mounted a platform, wearing calfskin boots and cat’s fur gloves (furry side on the inside). She sat on a cushion stuffed with hen’s feathers and. requested that a villager sing the entrancing incantations. A young woman, identified as a Christian volunteered saying that she learned the songs in childhood.
The Voluspa (translated as The Sibyl’s Prophecy or The Völva’s Prophecy) is a Norse poem from Iceland written down in the late tenth century or early eleventh, but believed to reflect older traditions. It is considered among the most important poems in the Poetic Edda, if not the most important poem. The poem takes the form of a monologue delivered by a völva in response to Odin’s questioning.
When the völva emerged from her trance, she praised the singing: the spirits had flocked to hear it. She was able to learn from these spirits that the famine would soon end as well as other information, including the destiny of the singer. According to one witness: “Little she said went unfulfilled.”
See also ; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: ; DIVINE WITCH: .
Vodo: Variation of Vodoun practiced in the Dominican Republic. See .
Vodou, Vodoun: This word literally means “spirit” in the Fon language of West Africa. “Spirit” refers to the lwa; Fon spiritual traditions center on devotion to the lwa and interaction with them, and Vodou names this spiritual tradition. Vodou still exists in West Africa (in Togo, Benin, and elsewhere), but the word is now usually identified with African-derived Haitian spiritual traditions.
The framework of Vodou derives from Fon tradition but evolved in Haiti to incorporate other African influences, as well as those of Europe and Freemasonry. Indigenous Caribbean traditions were also incorporated into Vodou.
Although the colonial authorities attempted to suppress African spiritual traditions, and Vodoun was banned on pain of death, it flourished through syncretism: the lwa were identified with Roman Catholic saints. Thus Ogou, Spirit of Iron, wears the mask of St James the Greater who is always depicted brandishing a sword. That sword is the clue to the identity of the forbidden spirit.
Vodoun is practiced more openly now but is still subject to periodic discrimination and persecution. Vodoun and Vodou are the spellings preferred by most devotees, as they are considered more respectful than the variant Voodoo.
Mambo are the initiated priestesses of Vodou, also spelled Manbo. Houngan is an initiated Vodou priest.
See also , , .
Voodoo: Historically, Vodou, and traditional African spirituality in general, were not treated respectfully by outsiders, to put it mildly. Vodou was considered the lowest bastion of Paganism and primitive superstition and was mocked, denigrated, and outlawed.
Voodoo is the spelling popularized by American outsiders to the tradition. Vicious, racist distortions of Vodou were once popularly featured in horror movies and pulp novels (see ). Many practitioners thus find this spelling inherently insulting and prefer Vodoun or Vodou, the official Kreyol spelling. The use of “Voodoo” as an insult word survives in mainstream society—hence terms like “voodoo economics.”
However, Voodoo is also used to distinguish the spiritual traditions that emerged in New Orleans following the mass emigration of Haitian refugees during the Haitian Revolution that began in 1791. The word is used in that context in this book.
Outsiders also frequently used “Voodoo” to refer to any magical practitioner or witch particularly one of African descent, as for instance Lafcadio Hearn’s famous eulogy of Dr. John Montanet, The Last of the Voodoos. This is also considered insulting and incorrect. Many practitioners prefer Voodooist or Vodouienne. (See HALL OF FAME: .)
Vucodlak: Usually translated as “werewolf,” vucodlaks soul-journey in the form of a wolf. They do battle with their natural enemies, the Kresnik, also renowned shape-shifters. Significantly, although the kresnik can allegedly transform into any animal form, their favored shapes are livestock like goats or horses, natural prey for a wolf. It is possible to understand these clashes between kresniks and vucodlaks as witch wars rather than dualist battles between good and evil—clashes of occultists representing different communities or clans. See also .
Wanga: Technically a Haitian term for a malevolent magical object or packet intended to cause harm, however it has also come to be a catch-all phrase for any sort of amulet or talisman. It is also sometimes used to indicate a charm bag or mojo hand and may be spelled “huanga.” Practitioners of other traditions may perceive it as a neutral term, not intrinsically malevolent.
Ward, Warding: As in “to ward off”; protective, vigilant spells and rituals for safety and protection.
Warlock: Historically “warlock” has been used to designate a male practitioner of the magical arts. It was particularly popular in Scotland as a synonym for “male witch” and remains popular in the mass media, although certainly not within the modern witchcraft community.
It is a controversial word whose use enrages many magical practitioners. Its use also tends to indicate that the person using it is an outsider to the magical community, unaware of nuance and etiquette. There is debate as to its origins; the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive:
• It evolved from the Old English waeroga, literally “oath breaker” but also historically used to indicate “devil.” Waer indicates a covenant, while loga means “betrayer,” from the root word meaning “to lie.” That evolved into the Middle English warloghe, also spelled warlache, and eventually into its modern spelling. This reference to “oath-breakers” links the warlock to Christian apostasy.
• It evolved from the Norse vardlokkur, which may mean a wise man who guards (locks) the gates of knowledge. He binds evil spirits to prevent them from entering through portals, thus creating wards. This warlock is a spiritual warrior and a practitioner of protective magic, especially defensive runes. If the word derives from vardlokkur then it derives from Pagan sources and refers to genuine Pagan tradition.
Vardlokkur may name the practitioner but it may also name the magical tradition of using runes to bind harm and provide protection.
“Warlock” may be derived from both roots and may reflect British Christian perceptions of Pagan Norse invaders. Regardless of its origin, however, the Anglo-Saxon term emerges squarely from Christian tradition. It is a Christian word used to describe those whom Christians held in contempt, and at some point it came to mean a “backsliding Christian.” Witch-hunters applied it to their prey. The sting of this word still remains and it will raise hackles in many, if not most, witchcraft communities. (Exceptions are those practitioners drawing heavily or exclusively on Norse traditions, who may even favor the name.)
Although Neo-Pagans are offended by the notion of lying witches, the point is that the word was coined by the Christian authorities. The broken oath wasn’t to other Pagan practitioners but to the Church. Pagan practitioners may have attempted to preserve their traditions through subterfuge, as was done successfully elsewhere (see , ), playing for time and safety by swearing allegiance to the Church with their fingers crossed. When caught, they were prosecuted as “oath-breakers.” The warlock may be understood as the British equivalent of Spain’s Muslim Moriscos and Jewish conversos.
Whispering: A synonym for “spell-casting.” Methods of spell-casting traditionally incorporate murmuring, muttering or whispering charms, prayers, incantations, blessings or curses. However, use of this word eventually lead to dangerous stereotyping: any woman, especially elderly, raggedy, and/or belligerent ones observed muttering or whispering to themselves were subject to accusations of witchcraft.
Wicca: This term may be used to indicate pre-Christian spiritual traditions of the British Isles, the revival of these traditions as formalized by Gerald Gardner, and/or magical practice in general. “Wicca” is also the Old English word indicating a male practitioner of these magical arts and/or spiritual traditions.
Different explanations of the word’s origins exist, all of which may be related and none of which are mutually exclusive:
• Old English Wicca (m) and Wicce (f) took the form Wicche in the Middle Ages for both genders. These words derive from the root verb “to know”
• The Indo-European root word wic or weik meaning “to bend” or “turn”; witches bend the forces of nature to achieve their goals
• The Germanic weiha, “dedicated to the spirits”
• Vigja, Old Norse, meaning “sacred, numinous, worshipped”
• Indo-European root words wid “to know” and/or wat “to prophesy.” Other words deriving from this source are the Russian ved’ma, Norse vitki, and Slavic vjestica.
See also HALL OF FAME: .
Widdershins: Literally, “the left-hand path.” When one circles counter-clockwise, one is circling widdershins, walking or dancing in the direction opposite to that of the sun. Traditional magical wisdom associates the left side with the moon, women, and yin forces. Non-dualist societies perceive “left” as neutral and necessary: there is no “right” without “left” and vice-versa, however dualist philosophy associated “left” with the evil side of the eternal chessboard of dueling forces. (See .) Modern usage betrays these implications: Mr. Right, the right decisions, the right way versus left-handed compliments and the left-hand path. In Latin, the left side is the sinister side; need we say more?
Post-Christianity, circling widdershins was known as the “witches’ way” and the “devil’s way.” Being observed circling widdershins was sufficient grounds for an accusation of witchcraft. Observing someone circling widdershins inspired fear in those convinced that witches were evil malefactors.
Many spells incorporate widdershins movement, as they do its opposite—deasil. Eliminating either one eliminates balance. However suspicion of widdershins survives, including within many, although not all, Wiccan traditions who associate widdershins with baneful magic. Those who incorporate widdershins into magical practice tend to use it for banishing purposes.
Wild Hunt: A wild processional of spirits. The Wild Hunt rides on windy, stormy nights as well as on specific dates of the year—Halloween, May Eve, Midsummer’s Eve, and the period now designated as the Twelve Nights of Christmas.
Reactions to these processions vary: these spirits are powerful and unpredictable and it is usually considered advisable to stay out of their way. Magical practitioners, however, often wish to observe, join or somehow encounter this parade of spirits.
The tradition of a parade of spirits who may or may not be accompanied by spirits of the dead and living devotees appears around the world, including areas as isolated as Hawaii.
In some European traditions, during the twelve intercalary days preceding the start of the New Year, dead souls travel in procession to visit families and loved ones. They are traditionally led by deities who bridge thresholds of death and life, goddesses of fertility and death like Freya, Herta, and Hulda, all of whom serve as leaders of the Wild Hunt.
• In some areas those twelve intercalary days were interpreted as corresponding to the Winter Solstice or Yuletide.
• In others, the time period corresponds to Halloween and the beginning of the Dark Half of the Year.
• In other areas, this period precedes the Vernal Equinox and so corresponds in time to various purification festivals in February.
According to Nordic myth, Odin periodically rides his horse at night leading a tremendous procession of deities, spirits, heroes, and heroines. His passing is signaled by storms featuring lightning, thunder, and powerful winds. It was recommended that people stay safely indoors because should they encounter you, these spirits possessed the power to force you to join them. (This may refer to fears of involuntary possession or because being caught celebrating the Wild Hunt left one vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft and maintaining now-forbidden traditions.)
In ancient Germany and Scandinavia, this Wild Hunt—Odin’s Host of Spirits—rendezvoused with Dame Hulda’s Host of Witches, especially during the Twelve Days of Yule.
In Iceland, the twelve days of Christmas are known as Odin’s Yule Host. Santa Claus flying through the air in his reindeer-driven sleigh may be interpreted as Odin riding solo.
The Wild Hunt may enforce justice: a Danish runestone (gravestone engraved with runic inscriptions) concludes with the warning “a rati be he who destroys this stone.” The rati is a person whose soul is taken and driven by the Wild Hunt.
Under the influence of Christianity, the nature of the Hunt changed; it was no longer considered sufficient to merely avoid the Hunt for fear of being swept up, it was now sinful to even watch the Hunt as it passed. The Hunt was associated with witchcraft and evil. Human participants were believed to be witches punished by God for their diabolical, Pagan practices.
The Wild Hunt became associated with the punishments of Hell; the spirit who heads the hunt was literally a head-hunter, out searching for transgressors against Christianity who would be forced to join the Host for ever.
The Host of the Hunt consisted of those who somehow fell outside Church sacraments: unbaptized babies, illegitimate children, major sinners, those who died violent deaths and/or are deprived of funeral rites. Heathens, Jews, and witches were allegedly among those riding with the Hunt. Allegedly the traveling souls of shamans (double, fetch, dream-soul), if unable to return to their bodies, are fated to join the Wild Hunt.
There are two ways of interpreting this, depending upon personal perception. Either disobedience to the Church dooms you to this parade of the damned, or that those uninterested in Church sacraments revel in this sacred carnival.
The Wild Hunt is but one of many names for this procession of spirits. Others include:
• Asgard’s Chase
• Spirit’s Ride
• Holla’s Troop
• Cain’s Hunt
Among the leaders of the Hunt are Dame Goden, Diana, Freya, Harlequin/Herlichinus, Herne the Hunter, Herodias, Herta, Hulda, King Arthur, Odin/Wotan/Woden, Perchta, and St Lucy.
See also CALENDAR: , .
Witch-doctor: This term originally indicated a magical practitioner skilled at counteracting malevolent magic. Doctor is a title of respect given to magical practitioners in the African-American community and in those white communities strongly influenced by their practices.
Doctor is not only a title of respect but it indicates a healer, as curses and hexes are believed to manifest as physical illnesses in many traditions, impossible to cure by conventional medicine. Harmful substances are actually introduced into the target’s body (either by magical or actual physical methods). The witch-doctor must remove these harmful substances and effect the cure.
Witch-doctor has become a term of disrespect and denigration toward shamans and traditional healers, however some modern magical practitioners (like author Draja Mickaharic) embrace the title. (See HALL OF FAME: , .)
Wizard: “Wizard” derives from the Middle English wizard, “one who is habitually or excessively wise,” and may be understood to derive from similar Indo-European root sources as “witch,” “wicca,” “ved’ma,” and other words for occult practitioners. It was first used in fifteenth-century Britain and continental Europe to indicate village sorcerers.
Wizard has largely become a literary term now; few describe themselves as “wizards” (although this may change with the advent of Harry Potter). It was, however, a common term in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was applied to both male and female practitioners.
Worker: A euphemism for a practitioner of Hoodoo or other magical arts.
Xorguina: This Basque (Euskadi) word indicates witches, fortune-tellers, and other magical practitioners. The word is also used to designate fairies, although whether these fairies are intended to be understood as spiritual entities or as human women is subject to interpretation. The word is also spelled Jurgina.
Xorguinería: Basque (Euskadi) word translated as “witchcraft.” Traditional xorguinería derives strongly from Women’s Mysteries, particularly spinning. The xorguina spins her spells at night at the crossroads bathed in the moonlight. Many xorguinería practices appear to derive from rituals associated with the Basque witch-deity Mari. See DIVINE WITCH: .
Yama-Oba, Yama-Uba: Her name signifies “old mountain woman”; this Japanese being is sometimes identified as a benevolent spirit, a demon, a witch, a cannibal-ogre, or all or some of the above. Mountains are extremely sacred and powerful in Shinto cosmology and thus divinity may lurk in the Yama-Oba’s past. The name may also be a title similar to that of the great Eurasian goddess Kybele, “The Mountain Mother.” Yama-Oba (there may be one or many of them) manifests as a woman with long disheveled hair. According to folklore, her hair transforms into snakes and back as desired. See also DIVINE WITCH: .
Yidoni: Hebrew euphemism for “witch”; literally means “knower.”
Yogini: Technically this refers to a female yogi, a practitioner of yoga, however it is also used to refer to mysterious females (spirits or humans) who are able to affect change that is ultimately beneficial, although this is not always immediately apparent. Among the powers of the yogini is the capacity to transform others into animal forms.
Yogini can also refer to female masters of Tantra. The word is sometimes used as a synonym for “dakini,” itself sometimes used as a synonym for “witch.”
Zar: Zar names a sub-category of djinn, the ceremonies through which they communicate, and the tradition of interacting with these spirits.
Zar often first manifest themselves through involuntary possession of an individual or by stimulating illness and misfortune for that person. Misfortune and illness cannot be alleviated without appeasing the zar. This is significant: it is more typical for invasive spirits to be exorcised. The zar aren’t going anywhere; they refuse to be exorcized. Forced exorcism inevitably causes worse harm than the effects of possession, and so a system of appeasement has developed.
Trance is induced, so that the zar can speak through the possessed person to a skilled zar specialist, such as a kodia or balazar, who is able to interpret their desires and work out a plan of action. Usually gifts, offerings or some sort of schedule of devotions is demanded in exchange for alleviation of symptoms. Following the ceremonial, the zar spirit does not depart but is now transformed into an ally. The person is still possessed in other words, but possession is transformed into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Zar spirits may be male or female but their targets are almost exclusively women. Many believe that the zar represents surviving vestiges of Pagan traditions. The ceremonials are reminiscent of those of Vodou or Santeria. Whether these traditions arose independently or share common roots is unknown. Zar involves trance, dancing, and drumming. Sacrifice is often incorporated—either animal sacrifice or botanical offerings.
Zar activity occurs predominately in Muslim communities. In many areas, zar is a controversial practice and religious authorities continue efforts to eliminate it. See also , , .
Zauberei: German synonym for “magic.”
Znakhar/Znakharka (m/f): “One who knows.” This Russian term indicates a magical practitioner, similar to English cunning folk. The znakharka is a folk healer whose specialties include distance healing, dream interpretations, Evil Eye removal, the location of lost or stolen property, and the identification of thieves. The znakharka may also be a midwife. See also .
Zombi: A word deriving from Vodou terminology indicating people who appear to have died and so are buried. However, the semblance of death was really caused by a sorcerer who concocts complex poisons from various botanical, mineral, and animal sources.
The sorcerer and whoever paid him (in Haiti this type of magic usually features male practitioners although this may not be true elsewhere) is well aware that the person is not really dead. When the coast is clear, the “corpse” is dug up and an antidote administered. However the effects of the initial poison—and perhaps the trauma of burial—usually cause brain damage. That person will never be the same again; they have been transformed into a zombi, which is the correct Kreyol spelling and may be plural as well as singular.
In Haiti, zombi are inevitably forced to labor as agricultural slaves. The concept of the zombi exists in Africa as well as in Haiti, although the same word may not be used to name that concept. Based on funerary practices that ensure that the deceased is really dead (graveside vigils, stakes through the heart…) the concept may have existed elsewhere, too.
United States’ forces occupied Haiti from 1915 until 1934. Haiti, an independent black republic, evoked strong reactions from white Americans—this period corresponded to an era of intense racial segregation and discrimination in the States. Fear and disapproval was laced with fascination, and distorted aspects of Haitian culture were incorporated into American mass entertainment, and especially into horror movies. “Zombies” and “Voodoo-doctors” became popular staples of the genre, objects of horror with rarely any relationship to the original concept. The Hollywood spelling “zombie” refers to this distortion.
Ethno-botanist Wade Davis, a Harvard scientist, traveled to Haiti to research zombies, in the hope that this information could be used to improve methods of anesthesia. His adventures and findings, including a formula to create zombis, are recorded in his book The Serpent and the Rainbow (Simon & Schuster, 1985). The 1988 film adaptation is a horror-movie and does not substitute for the book.